Thursday, 17 June 2010

Ice-cream makers

Those that know me in real life will know that my father opened up an ice-cream shop when he turned 70. As you do.

I wrote about him, and ice-cream for The Economist's Intelligent Life magazine. If you look carefully at the collage you can see a picture of me in a school photo, and one of my dad by the round pond in Kensington Gardens, holding me next to our giant pram (actually I think it may be my sister, but I couldn't find many pictures of me with my father because, being the second child, the novelty of taking pictures of me had obviously worn off).

He sold the business about four years ago. But I've kept the ice-cream making going on a domestic scale, inspired by the creations my father made.

Making ice-cream is really easy. I'd say "you don't need an ice-cream maker" but let's face it, you do. If you want to pour your ice-cream into a container, put it in the freezer, and then take it out again every few hours to break up the ice-crystals, then please do so. But if you do that you'll think making ice-cream is as real faff and will, quite understandably, just go and buy it in the supermarket.

But I like making my own ice-cream for two main reasons:

1) I am nearly always avoiding a deadline
2) I  like knowing what's gone into it. Because ice cream really doesn't need the input of things like xanthan gum and emulsifier.

Ice-cream makers come in two types. Ones that cost about in the £40 range, with these you need to pre-freeze the bowl; or ones that cost about £300 and have an inbuilt freezer. These are the pros and cons:

Pre-freeze ones:

  • take up less space
  • are cheaper


  • you need to either be organised to put the bowl in the freezer (to pre-freeze it)
  • so you need to have room in the freezer to do this
  • the capacity is often less than those of the bigger, more expensive models
  • they tend to take longer to make the ice-cream

Built-in freezer ice cream makers:

  • are quicker
  • have a bigger capacity
  • require no pre-freezing of the bowl


  • they take up a lot of space on the counter top
  • are very heavy so really you need to keep them out, because also..
  • when you move them you have to then keep them level for 24hrs
  • can be very noisy, although remember they're fast so you only need put up with the noise for about an hour.
  • some of them need priming of the bowl with alcohol
The best ice-cream maker on the market, that sort of straddled the two, was the Panasonic BH-9441P. It was a brilliant little machine that didn't look bad either. But the beauty was that it was battery run, so no need for pre-planning. You just made your ice-cream, popped it into the machine and stuck the whole thing in the freezer. It cost about £35 and I recommended it many times but it's no longer easily available and the demand for it has pushed the price up to over £50 when you can buy it.

Philips, Magimix and Cuisinart all make models of the former for about £40 (with the odd model costing nearly double that), and they get good reviews. Have a look on Amazon (which is what I would do) before deciding which one you get. Remember that if you have a food mixer, you can often get ice-cream maker attachments to go with them. I have no idea how they work.

Because we make ice-cream regularly in our house we have three models:

two Panasonics because I bought one for my dad when he 'retired' and have since nicked it back from him.
one Cuisinart Professional Ice-cream maker.

 The Cuisinart Professional Ice-cream Maker. A distinct lack of buttons to press but a lovely machine.

The latter is the one we use most now because since we swopped our giant American fridge freezer for a smaller freezer/fridge freezer I rarely have the room for my Panasonic. The Cuisnart PIM is very beautiful, rather monolithic and stainless steel. I mention this because I think it's important how they look, but not so important that looks is everything. I very carefully researched it before buying it. It needs no priming. It's super simple to use. In fact when you get it (if you do) you might be disappointed with the number of buttons to press. There aren't any, just a timer dial to turn.

You have a little bucket (1.5l capacity) which you put the ice-cream mixture into, then attach the arm/lid and turn the clock timer to how long you think it'll need (maximum an hour but it stops automatically if it's 'done' before then and there's nothing to stop you running it for longer if it still needs it, just put the timer back on) and that's it. It has a plastic churner turner that turns as the machine freezes the  mixture.

It's very noisy however. The noise doesn't bother me so much as all my kitchen appliances can be hidden with stainless steel shutters so that buffers the noise somewhat. Then you take the bucket out, decant the ice cream into a freezer container and put it away to harden up/for later.

Home made ice cream is very soft when just made. Lots of people don't realise this and think it's not done properly. You can absolutely eat it straight out of the machine and it'd make a great after dinner-party dessert justlikethat.  And this is how I rather like it. It's very velvety and you can really taste the flavours. I made a ricotta ice cream recently which was so tasty out of the machine. It's very dangerous however as you can eat LOADS like this.

So be careful.

Or you can freeze it and it makes a lovely made-in-advance dessert, so one less thing to think about when you have guests. It keeps for ages in the freezer.

The  machine is not cheap: about £250, although you might be able to pick up a very good second hand model for less. It comes with a five year guarantee. The Gaggia Gelateria is another model that some friends have, but I've never used it so can't comment on it with any authority. If you have it let me know.

I'll post up some ice-cream recipes up another time as I've spent years trying to finesse some of them. Note: I didn't like the recipes that came with the Cuisnart. In fact finding good ice-cream recipes is a bit of a bug-bear of mine. I am an absolute snob about it and only consider it to be proper ice-cream if it's made from a custard (egg yolks, milk, cream, sugar) base. (Obviously you can also make frozen yoghurts and sorbets which is a different thing.)

I'm lucky because my father can get me 'tasting cones' (tiny cones) from his ice-cream industry contacts. This means that if you have children coming, or just people who work in the fashion industry who don't each much, they can have a miniature ice-cream cone. But for everyone else, serving home made ice cream in a sugar cone is a lovely way to finish a meal, however posh the rest of it was.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The most fantastic child's quilt ever

Liberty patchwork quilt by Charlotte's Cot Blankets, £110, buy buy buy.

A few days ago, my boyfyhusband (see, readers, this is what you're reduced to calling your boyfriend of THIRTEEN YEARS and the father of your TWO CHILDREN when you're not married. Learn by my mistake and insist on an engagement ring within two years of dating, or else. I do have an engagement ring, presented to me about four years ago, but by then it was TOO LATE) took a real awwww picture of our youngest asleep, and covered with her Liberty patchwork quilt, like the one above except obviously with her details on it. I would post it up here except it shows her name and those that know me know that I never name my children in print. Anyway, I sent the pic around the globe to family and friends and have been besieged by requests ever since asking Where Does the Quilt Come from. Even my sister, who is able to crochet, sew and knit like (*insert name of extreme crocheter, sewer and knitter here*) asked me.

Imagine how tempted I was to say "I made it!" and leave it at that. But I just couldn't take the glory. Even though a) I love patchwork and b) I'm rather good at it. Or I was aged 14 when I last made anything in patchwork and that something was a pencil case.

But let me tell you what I really loved about that pencil case: I made it using scraps of fabric that really mattered to me, from items of clothing no longer in use but that evoked something. I couldn't ever wear anything patchwork, but I think, as a method of using up bits of sentimental clothing, you can't beat it. One day in the future, when I have loads of time on my hands, I intend to make a big patchwork quilt using up clothes that once mattered.

The Liberty Patchwork quilt from Charlotte's Cot Blankets, was given to my youngest by her Godfather. Well I say her Godfather, but I know that the idea came from his wife, aka my best friend Emma. It's made, by hand, in Norfolk, so the county just up from me (local produce!). It's really beautiful and would make a wonderful Christening present or 'new baby' present.

You can also get it in blue-y colours, but this combination is just lovely.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Children's cutlery

I get really cross with children's cutlery. Growing up, we happened to have a fork that was smaller than the rest, like the runt of the cutlery drawer. For some known-only-to-me reason, I called this fork "Bluey"...anyway, it was MY fork and I used it for every meal my mother made. Even pizza. Which she used to make for me without the tomato sauce on top as I had a bad experience at school involving giant plum peeled tomatoes, which I'll detail another time.

Children's cutlery invariably consists of blunt-ended forks with chunky handles, knives that cut nothing and spoons that are so wide, said child would have to have a letterbox for a mouth to get them in. Useless. Or super chunky, plastic-handled crap with stupid designs all over it. When what you surely want is a plain, simple, stainless steel set of cutlery that is just smaller. How hard can this be to find?


When my eldest was born, my mother produced, with a flourish, a set of cutlery that belonged to me as a child and which had been given to me by an erstwhile next door neighbour. It consisted of fork, knife, spoon and teaspoon (the latter has been mislaid somewhere, probably under the new kitchen), perfectly normal, perfectly functional just scaled down for children. I have no memory, whatsoever, of ever having used this set of cutlery. Probably because, in the way of Southern Italians (which my mother is) she was dazzled by the inlay of 'gold' each piece had along the handle, saved it for 'best' and then promptly forgot where she'd put it.

Here it is, childhood fork. I have no memory at all of ever using it.

When she gave the set to me for my eldest, my first thought was "I'll hide these in a drawer somewhere", but it became apparent quickly that it was actually really useful. Number 1: my daughter loves having her own cutlery (although I daily remind her that it's MY cutlery), number 2: it makes sense for her to use something scaled down. Number 3: I actually love that my mother kept them all these years.

So I was able to dispense with the other, totally useless, totally rubbish, children's cutlery I had accumulated since my daughter was born in an attempt to find Scaled Down Cutlery That Actually Worked.

I'd tried the Miniamo melamine children's cutlery: totally crap. The fork's prongs were so rounded as to render them totally useless.. They have anyway now been recalled, not because they are a crime against the trade descriptions' act, but because fragments of the fork can break off and pose a choking hazard. 

Then I bought the So.Eat set from Waitrose. A knife, fork and spoon for £10, which seemed a lot, but they looked like good, solid specimens and the only child-related insignia was a smiley face at the base of the stem of each piece (why, why, why?), which I could live with, just about. 

Don't buy these.

I was full of hope as I got these home. But immediately it became apparent to me that they had, to my mind at least, there was a design flaw. Each piece was really heavy. When I take these out of the cutlery drawer, I have to almost engage my abdominals. And the spoon! You can probably see from the pic above that the 'bowl' of the spoon is huge! And this is meant to be for a little mouth!

I was really pretty cross by this stage. My youngest, who is just over a year now, feeds herself and always has (honestly, don't bother with all that spoon-feeding of pureeing stuff, no need). Sure she very often throws her cutlery on the floor, but when she does want to use cutlery she doesn't want to be hindered by weight-lifting. 

Anyway today, I was in our local kitchen store, which I go to on a weekly basis, wondering round the aisles aimlessly, sure that I need at least one new gadget (I have the best stocked kitchen ever, probably only Martha Stewart beats me). Then I saw it. The answer.

An oyster fork. 

An oyster fork, (okay, two) slightly Georgian in feel, I feel, and the answer to all my prayers.

Okay I haven't sorted the knife problem yet (you can get small butter knives, but they aren't right). But let's face it, mostly my youngest, dexterous though she is, doesn't actually cut up her own food yet. She's fine with a regular teaspoon but what she needed was a small fork. This is perfectly sized for her. There was another one, slightly bigger, with four prongs, which I'll probably buy in a year or so but this is great for now. It cost £2.50 and it's fucking brilliant (sorry); it's really good quality stainless steel and I'm sure I'll find a use for it (other than oysters, one of the few things I really don't like, like having some gob into your mouth excuse me) when she's outgrown it.

From L to R: a regular sized fork, my child-hood, gold embossed fork and the soon to be famous oyster fork, so you can compare sizes. Look, this is important.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Sunday Lunch Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate mousse, detail from.

Chocolate mousse was a big thing in the Barbieri household when I was a bambina. Mostly, I have to say, because my mum would serve it in those saucer champagne glasses - the sort that very few people use now (they let the bubbles out too fast, but how long does one hold a glass of champagne for??) but growing up, in the 1970's, you used to see them far more.

I fully intend to serve my chocolate mousse in those glasses just as soon as I can nick them from my folks' house. In the meantime I serve them in little white pots - Gu desserts used to come in them when Gu desserts first came out.

Having a six year old meant it was only a matter of time before I'd have to revive the tradition of chocolate mousse. We used to have it only occasionally when I was a child, but these days, we have it after Sunday lunch, every Sunday. Rituals are important to small children (and me). This is also a great dessert to make in advance and stick in the fridge, so it's one less thing to think about if you're entertaining.  It uses raw egg, which I guess I must point out you shouldn't eat if you're pregnant/old/young/allergic to eggs. Etc. Otherwise, this is the recipe and how you make it. And yes I will stop talking about food soon-ish.

This is a bastardisation of my mother's recipe and Nigella's. I've tried many others but this makes for a really nice, light, mousse that's very low in added sugar, has all the natural goodness of high cocoa content chocolate, has a good chocolate hit without alienated small children or making them fly around the room afterwards. 

You will need:

For four people (this makes quite a small amount, the idea is that you have a good hit of chocolate so you don't need to pig out on it). It's easy to double up on if you need more.

50g 70% cocoa chocolate (I use Waitrose Continental Plain Chocolate, 70%. I recommend you do too, it's excellent).
50g 37% cocoa chocolate (I use Green and Black's Cooking Milk Chocolate)
10g golden syrup
1 tablespoon of water
2 eggs, separated. It doesn't really matter if they're medium or large, whatever you have. Remember it's the white of the egg that changes with the size of the egg, not the yolk. So it figures that if you use large, or extra large eggs you'll have more white of egg, ergo more whisked egg whites, ergo more it's quite a good way of making less go further or ending up with a slightly lighter mousse.

Put the chocolate, syrup and water in a bowl above a simmering pan of water. When melted, take off the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes. In the meantime whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl, until they're stiff and you can turn the bowl upside down.

Beat the yolks into the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the whisked egg whites with a metal spoon. I find it works better with a metal spoon, but obviously don't sweat if you only have a big wooden one, just be a bit more gentle. You want to keep the air in the mixture.

Poor into suitable receptacles: small espresso cups, ramekins, small pot things and chill overnight or for a few hours. I'd personally not keep this for more than about 24 hours.

Saturday morning pancakes

 Saturday morning pancakes. And yes I know I posted this on a Sunday.

I saw Jamie Oliver doing these on the television just before Christmas. He was making them with his two eldest daughters. I'm not short of pancake recipes, but I've never been wholly pleased with the result. Not least, most pancake recipes need you to rest the mixture overnight or for an hour. Despite being really organised in many respects, I just get annoyed at the thought of having to make pancake mixture in advance like that. But I guess I'd have been able to get a*** into gear if the result had been worth while. And, have I mentioned, it's not been.

Three things struck me about the Jamie pancake recipe that made me want to give it a try:

1) Its immediacy: you mix it up and away you go

2) You don't have to weigh anything, you just use a cup - any coffee or tea cup - and that's the measure you use for both flour and milk, so it's great if you haven't got scales/can't be bothered with them.

3) It has grated fruit in it. This could only be a good thing. Then I made them and they were so delicious that they've become a regular Saturday morning fixture ever since.

Here is the recipe:

One cup of self raising flour (update, to make these more 'wholegrainy, I now make them with half a cup of self raising flour and half a cup of wholemeal plain and then add half a teaspoon of baking powder)
One cup of milk (I use semi skimmed since that's what we get)
One egg
Pinch of salt
A nice pear or apple or banana

to serve: blueberries, maple syrup and live yoghurt. (Jamie's recipe called for yoghurt and honey, I prefer to serve them slightly differently.)

Here is what you do:

Whisk together the flour, milk and egg. You can use an electric whisk if you want, or a hand whisk or even a fork. It doesn't need much, just enough to make a smooth batter. Add the pinch of salt - I use Maldon sea salt. Take a nice ripe pear or apple and wash it, then great the whole thing into the mixture, peel and all. Jamie did it pips and all, I fish those out, or grate around them. Bananas work well too but it makes for a very strong banana flavoured pancake and we're not so fond of them done this way in this house. Pears and apple are, I've found, the best. They impart a sweetness with no obvious presence. I don't say this as one who believes you have to hide fruit from children. I don't like subterfuge like that. But what I'm getting at is you end up with a really delicious pancake that just happens to have fruit in it.

Once the mixture is mixed together, heat a frying pan with a tiny bit of oil (I use sunflower, any relatively flavourless oil would do) and a tiny bit of butter. (You'll need to repeat the oil and butter for each batch, but you only need tiny amounts.) Then I use two tablespoons per pancake and in my pan I can fit three in in one go. They don't take very long to cook on each side - about a minute or so, just use your common sense - you're looking for golden brown to fairly dark brown. Flip and repeat. I put mine in the warming drawer whilst I'm doing the rest but if you don't have one then wrap them in silver foil or pop them in a very low oven. The whole batch is fairly fast to make and I've never had to 'sacrifice' the first few, like you do with regular pancakes. Using a true cappuccino cup (which I can measure if anyone is interested) I get about 12 pancakes done this way.

I serve with live yoghurt, blueberries and maple syrup and they are truly delicious and a great way to start the weekend.

ps: I've just enabled comments on this blog as I get quite a few emails/comments on Facebook. If you have a comment on this blog, please can I ask you put it here so I don't look like Noddy Nomates. Thank you.

An addendum to this, written on 29th November:

I've since experimented with adding half wholemeal and half white self raising and it makes for a really delicious pancake, slightly nuttier in taste but not at all off-puttingly 'worthy'. But it fills me up for longer because the GI (glycaemic index) is lower in wholemeal flour than white. If you can only find plain wholemeal flour, then add half a teaspoon of baking powder to the mix as well.

Friday, 4 June 2010

UV Tent

UV tents are a great idea in principle, you pop them up and they instantly protect everyone in them from the sun. Except they're not all equal. If your tent is too small, or doesn't allow for adequate ventilation, what you end up with is a UV shelter, but one that is so unbearably hot you can't sit in it.

I like the idea of personal shelters on the beach/in the park/in my own front room if need be. But then I am half hermit and I like to have somewhere to retreat to. I like the idea of my own little zone. But UV tents are also a great idea in the garden, in this weather. And children love them because I guess it taps into some primal response of having a 'nest' (you only have to watch children play to see how they love making hidey holes).

A few years ago, when I was writing the Personal Shopper column in the Guardian, I came across the UV Protector by Shelta. It's this one here and you can pick them up for about £50. My one hasn't got any garish yellow, it's all blue, which is much more chic but the yellow probably serves a purpose.

Anyway,  it's an excellent tent - think very hard before buying an inferior one and here's why.

It's big, but folds up small. The base is nearly 2m squared and when assembled it's 135cm high or thereabouts. Small children can easily walk around in it.

It's got poles in the design, but there's no having to thread them through. To assemble it is a synch (although there is a rider, which I'll tell you about in a moment), you just pull on two cords and up it goes. I struggle a bit as I'm only 5'2" and so I'm at arm's reach doing the initial pulling bit. But I just get someone to help me or stand on a chair. Taller people won't struggle at all and you don't need brute strength.

It's also very easy to take down, takes seconds.

The carry bag it comes with is compact, but roomy. By that I mean it's not one of those products that looks great when you first buy it, but to ever get it back in its carry case is impossible. You'll have no problem getting the folded up tent back in.

It's light and easy to carry and doesn't take up much room in a boot.

You can vary the ventilation quite a lot, so you can have it open on both sides, or variations thereof. Plus cos it's bigger than the average UV tent, it's not so claustrophobic.

You can fill it up with blankets and pillows and be very comfortable. Although that yellow...

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


About three years after our eldest was born, I bought my boyfyhusband a cocktail shaker. I searched very high, and very low for one that looked good and would last and finally found it at Alessi, that Italian design emporium that produces some truly wonderful, but also truly awful, designs.

 This the 870/50 Alessi cocktail shaker in 18/10 matt stainless steel which at the time of writing costs £63. It's worth it.

Thus Friday nights became cocktail nights.  At the end of every week, when our daughter had gone to sleep and I was reasonably sure she wouldn't want a feed til morning, I'd indulge in some beautiful, hard liquor.

Now my favourite cocktail has always been a vodka Martini, straight up, with three olives. (No idea if shaken or stirred since I never make my own, I just say "my usual" and it's made for me.)

I love Martinis so much that I wrote it into my birth plan that immediately after the birth of our second daughter, and whilst I was waiting for placental transfusion to stop (the cord to stop pulsating) I was to be offered a vodka Martini. And indeed, I was.

But with a cocktail shaker comes the need for a proper cocktail book. Again, here is a field that is saturated with offerings but I went into a proper old fashioned book shop (okay, the Selfridges book department) to select. I ended up choosing, which is a neat little tome with no pictures but lots of smart writing and a very comprehensive list of recipes. It's the cocktail book I'd recommend still.

What has any of this to do with Chambord? Very little directly. Except when you get into making cocktails you do need to start thinking about having something very grown up: a well stocked drinks' cabinet. And in that cabinet appeared a very ornate bottle of 'black raspberry liqueur' aka Chambord.

The Chambord bottle is hideous, all plastic, gold coloured ornateness topped with a crown. The sort of thing the Pope would drink, if he drank, and he should if he doesn't. I've heard that people feel the bottle is so 'special' they don't know what to do with it when it's empty. So instead of putting it in the recycling bin, they donate it to charity. Chambord made a feature of its bottle last year, releasing a very limited edition of one jewel encrusted version for $2million.

The world's most expensive bottle of booze.

Chambord is an excellent liqueur. You can make all sorts of complicated cocktails with it (the website tells you how) but I like it best splashed into the bottom of a glass of fizz. It can turn even a humble Cava into something rather tasty and lovely. It's very easy to drink and of course you'll get drunk quickly. But it's raspberries so it's one of your five a day.