Oh Summer, How glorious you are!

The ingredients for a great summer are, the sun, a braai at sunset, the distinct and clean scent of freshly cut lawn and the sounds of an afternoon thunderstorm, to name but a few. There are a whole lot more terrific things that can be added to the list, especially when you live in South Africa. One in particular are strawberries; those sweet delicate fruits which are in abundance this time of the year. Their fresh fragrance, sweet taste and bright colours are what summer is all about.

Summer is also the time for ice-cream. There are some great shop bought ones, but as with so many other things, the homemade version is so much better. Ice-cream falls into the same category as pasta and bread. If you prefer to make your own, most people with shock, would cry out “why on earth would you go through so much trouble making it, when there is a store just down the street which sells perfectly good bread and or pasta?!”

Different people will have different reasons for enjoying homemade foodstuffs. For one, it could be because they know exactly what ingredients, aka. no artificial preservative etc,  are going into it or, it could simply be that it was made with love and care. My reason, for making my own things like bread and pasta, when I find the time is for the pure joy of making it and the satisfaction of enjoying it afterwards. Before you start feeling bad for not waking up extra early every morning to put a loaf of bread in the oven before heading to the office, or using your Saturday mornings to roll out pasta, when I say I make my own bread and pasta it is literally an annual event, with the promise of doing it more often. Going back to the joy of homemade goods; there is something calming and therapeutic about the rhythmic rolling of pasta dough through a pasta machine, kneading and squeezing bread dough through your fingers and watching you ice-cream mixture slowly evolve into a dessert that you have enjoyed from when you were a child. Don’t fool yourself, as romantic as all this may sound, making these still involve a hard and long process, but the results are always worth it. The end-product not only tastes good, but you gain a sense of achievement as you just went through the effort of making something from scratch, that you could have quite easily bought.

So I have made my own bread and pasta before, but I have never attempted to make my most favourite desserts, which is ice-cream. Not that I never wanted to, but because I have always been discouraged by the fact that I do not own an ice-cream machine, until I stumbled upon David Lebovitz’s blog post, ‘How To Make Ice Cream Without a Machine’, and suddenly my hope was redeemed and the dreams of making ice-cream was back and alive more than ever. So without delay, I read the article and absorbed every bit of it. I was happy to realise that I did not need to wait until I had managed to save enough money to buy my own machine. The decision was made and I was now confident that I could take on the task, technology free; but not excluding my freezer.

In his article, David recommends two of his recipes that one could use as a first attempt. The one is his Vanilla Ice-Cream and the other, his Strawberry Frozen Yoghurt. A classic Vanilla Ice-Cream is always a winner, but with it being the season for strawberries, I could not resist the frozen yoghurt. Oh boy was it good, a sweet and refreshing dessert, just perfect to make summer a little better than it already is.

For those of us who do not have an ice-cream machine, and might not know what it actually does; my understanding of it is, that it freezes and churns the ice-cream mixture simultaneously, so as to avoid the build-up of ice crystals and ensure a smooth ice-cream. So when it is only you, without the help of this machine, you have to recreate a similar situation, using only a freezer, a whisk and some elbow grease. If you have an electric hand-held mixer, even better.

It is a lengthy process, so start early and don’t make plans for the next couple hours. The process is a bit tiresome but like a lot of other things, if you put in the effort you are almost guaranteed to have good results.

Going back to David Lebovitz and his recipe for Strawberry Frozen Yoghurt, it calls for a full cream or Greek style yoghurt, which in most cases I would have gone for, but the store was all out of the good stuff so I had no choice but to ‘down-grade’ to a, dare I say, low fat yoghurt. *shock and horror* I will admit that the end result was not bad, a little ‘icy’, with a texture more like that of a sorbet, but still enjoyable. Next time, it full fat all the way. Lastly, he suggests an optional extra of adding two teaspoons of kirsch or vodka. I am not a huge fan of alcohol flavoured desserts, so I gave this one a miss.

Strawberry Frozen Yoghurt

From David Lebovitz

450g strawberries, rinsed and hulled
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup plain yogurt (full-cream or Greek style)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

optional: 2 teaspoons vodka or kirsch

Cut the strawberries into small pieces. Add the strawberries along with the sugar into a bowl and toss together until the sugar begins to dissolve. Cover and let stand for 2 hours, at room temperature, stirring every so often.

Blend the strawberries and their juice to a smooth paste. I used an electric hand-held blender here, but if you have a food processor or blender and prefer to use either one, please do. Stir in the yoghurt and lemon juice. Strain all or portion of the mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds. See note at the end.

Chill the mixture for 1 hour by placing it, in its own bowl, into another bowl (or the sink) filled with ice. Once chilled put into the freezer, after 45 minutes if it has started to freeze along the edges, remove and stir vigorously with a whisk, or electric hand-held mixer, until all the frozen bits have broken up and mixture is smooth again.

Repeat this process, by freezing for 30-45 minutes and whisking until the ice-cream (in this case frozen yoghurt) is frozen. It will be ready in 2.5-3 hours.

*I did not strain the mixture to remove the seeds, as I like their delicate crunch, but since we are using a lot of strawberries here you may end up with too many seeds in the mixture. Next time I will see what the end result is if I only strain two-thirds of the mixture, still to retain some ‘crunch’


Fresh out of the oven

If there is one thing I am really good at, it would be how to procrastinate, I have mastered it down to a fine art. The reason for my constant procrastination is I am a perfectionist; if I can’t do something properly, I don’t bother doing it at all. I am not very proud of this.

I have wanted to start a food blog for some time now, but I keep on putting it off. The reason? Well that’s obvious, I want it to be perfect, and if it can’t be perfect it has to wait until it can. Every aspect of it needs to be perfect. It needs the perfect quirky name; the layout has to be well designed. The photographs need to be amazing, and the food in those photographs need to perfectly styled in beautiful porcelain bowls on lovely linen table clothes. That’s not all, the supporting text needs to perfect too; it needs to be entertaining and witty, but also informative and grammatically correct. This need for the perfect food blog is result of the overwhelming trend towards food blogging right now; it is HUGE! There are so many excellent ones out there I can’t help thinking, why would anyone want to read my blog if there are so many wonderful ones out there already.

I don’t have a great digital camera, my kitchen is not flooded with soft natural light and I do not have a cupboard stocked with beautiful crockery and cutlery; all of these needed to take those perfect photographs I was talking about. Writing does not come easy to me; it has never been a strong point of mine. However, I’ve got one thing going for me, I love being in the kitchen, no matter how poorly lit and under stocked it is. It is my happy place, and has been from my childhood years. I like to cook, but baking is my one and only true love.

Another reason for me putting off this blog is I wanted the first entry to be special, actually more than special, it had to be fireworks.  It had to about an extraordinary ‘something’ I made in the kitchen; it needed the ‘wow’ factor. In other words, it needed to be nothing short of magnificent. Due to these unrealistic expectations I had set myself, I put the blog on hold, well who wouldn’t with such high aspirations.

I recently moved into a new house, with a brand new kitchen, one with a large oven, ample storage and worktop space, something I never have had before. Every kitchen before this one, was cramped and forced me to extend my baking activities into the dining area and sometimes even into the bedroom. So this new kitchen was a big deal for me, therefore it needed a celebration, a ceremony marking the first day in which yumminess will flow out of it. This initiation I decided would begin with baking something truly special, and this, I thought would be the perfect subject for a first blog entry, and therefore the perfect way to start the perfect food blog.

Life and its routine got in the way and soon this perfect idea got put on the shelf. This does not mean that I have not been using my new kitchen, in actual fact I have used it several times and have made some lovely meals and baked goods. All of which could of made perfectly good subjects for blog posts.

There was one defining moment in my kitchen when I decided to let go of this ridiculous need for perfection, because if I don’t start this food blog now it will never happen, as perfection is almost always unattainable. On one particular Thursday, after a dull week at the office, I decided to cheer myself, and my colleagues, up with something sweet from one of my favourite food bloggers, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. She is my food blogging idol and I am one step short of setting up a shrine, dedicated to her, in my kitchen.  That day I chose to make her Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake. It was going well, until I thought I could get away with pouring the batter into the smaller of my two dishes. Bad mistake! It bubbled over into the oven, and I thought it best to clean it up when it was done, as my oven was already in a mess, so I wouldn’t risk opening the oven door and ruining the cake too. In theory that seemed to be a great plan, but in reality, it was a stupid plan. The bits of cake batter that bubbled over caught alight and before I knew it there was a fire in my oven. I have to interrupt by saying this is the first time I have started a fire in the kitchen. My kitchen was filled with thick grey smoke. I did not know what was more upsetting, my oven that was under attack by hot flames and burning batter, or that the cake would be ruined by the smoke and flames.

After I had the crisis under control and was busy cleaning up the dreadful mess, I had a brain wave, my new kitchen had just gone through that initiation process I had previously planned and delayed. It was not exactly the ‘wow’ factor I had in mind, but it will definitely be a moment to remember. So that would be the day I would finally start that food blog I have been promising myself.

I have come to terms with the idea that this blog will not be perfect, just like the way I christened my kitchen. Neither will its photos, styling and its writing will be perfect, but it will be mine to enjoy, and maybe with time it and I will improve. But for now it will just be about me having fun in my kitchen.

P.S. In case you are wondering, the cake, which I now call ‘The Fire Starter’ turned our pretty fantastic, even with its slight smoky taste, and it was a winner at the office. I brought home an empty dish, with crumbs as the only reminder of the day I started a fire.

Munch Munch

Fire Starter, aka. Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake

From Smitten Kitchen

120 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (500ml) sour cream
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

Filling and Topping
375 grams chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate bars (I used half milk chocolate and half dark chocolate)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 190°C. Grease a 22 x 35cm baking pan. Set aside.

In a small dish, whisk together sugar and cinnamon for the filling and topping.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs whites until stiff and set aside. In another larger bowl, cream the butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt together. Alternately mix into the butter mixture the sour cream and then dry ingredients until both are used up and the batter is smooth and very thick. Fold the egg whites into the batter.

Spread half the cake batter in the bottom of prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture and half of the chocolate chips. Spoon the remaining cake batter over filling in spoonfuls. Using a spatula gently spread it over the filling until it is level. Sprinkle the batter with the remaining cinnamon-sugar and remaining chocolate chips. Gently press the chocolate chips, to ensure they stick to the batter; no need to submerge them.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, rotating halfway through, until a tester inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.