Rhubarb Surprise Ice Cream Sandwiches

My ice cream life was varied and disparate when I was a wain. There was the exquisite gelato of family holidays to Italy ( scene of one of my most memorable moments when I brattily declared I didn’t like ice cream to howls of disbelieving laughter), Mr Whippy style cornets with a flake on the side, the mouth puckering but moreish lemon sorbet my mum’s friend Ann made at dinner parties and slices of raspberry ripple from a rectangular carton, often served on the side of fresh raspberries from my granny’s garden but also slipped between two wafers to make a slider.

Cue quizzical eyebrow raising from our foodie readers. Well to us Norn Irish (and Scottish) folk, a slider is not a mini burger, it’s an  ice cream sandwich, usually from a van or one of those amazing Celtic-Italian ice cream cafes both countries welcomed so happily due to their super sweet tooth. Possible to make at home if you could get your Dale Farm in the right sized block and work quickly, they were more often a treat bought on a seaside trip or at the end of a Sunday out. They came in several souped up versions such as the nougat wafer (dipped in chocolate and nougat and pronounced nugget) or the seemingly sophisticated oyster, but my favourite was the version that had a Flake inside. I could work out how they got the figs in Fig Rolls, but not the Flake inside one of these.

Quite hard to eat in a dignified manner, these required a careful combo of licking, nibbling, turning and eventually biting to make sure you got every drop without it exploding down your front. I imagine it was their trickiness to eat that has led to them seemingly vanishing without a trace these days. I haven’t seen one for years and neither had the other slightly bemused people I canvassed about them. It looked like I was going to have to make my own version. It was a project worthy of one of Kavey’s ice cream challenges!

Chocolate is all very well and good but my last two batches had both been chocolatey and I felt I needed some fresher and tangier to hit the spot. One of those perfect lightbulb moments happened and I realised that a stick of poached rhubarb inside the ice cream would make a perfect grown up copy of that childhood classic…

Rhubarb Surprise Ice Cream Sandwiches:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 250ml milk
  • 500ml double cream
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 5 stalks rhubarb
  • pack of rectangular ice cream wafers

I used a silicone tray like this one to make individual blocks of ice cream. All instructions are for this tray, but you could use something else if you prefer.

Roast your rhubarb in the oven at 150℃ for about 20 minutes until soft but still holding its shape firmly. Then set aside the narrower stalks on a plate so you have enough for nine pieces and allow them to drain any juice away. Puree the rest of the rhubarb in the blender.

Then make your ice cream base by heating the milk and sugar together until bubbling but not boiling. Add in the cream. Separate the eggs and beat the yolks in a small bowl. Then add a cupful of the warm cream mixture to the egg yolks and stir. This will temper the yolks so they don’t scramble when you add them to the hot liquid. Then add the egg mix to the warmed milk and cream and cook gently until starting to thicken and coats the back of a spatula. Take off the heat and chill well before churning in your machine.

About five minutes before your ice cream machine has done its job, add in the rhubarb puree to flavour your custard base. Make sure your ice cream is still quite soft and malleable and then put a dessertspoonful in the base of each section of your tray. Place the cut piece of roast rhubarb on top and then cover it all with another spoonful of ice cream so there are no gaps. When all are filled, put the tray flat into the freezer to chill completely for several hours so that each little block is nice and firm.

When you are ready to eat the ice cream, take the tray out about 5 minutes before and run a blunt knife round the block to loosen it and the block should pop out in one piece. Pop between two rectangular ice cream wafers (I used Askey’s for extra childhood nostalgia) and then get your chops round this awesome ice cream sandwich. The ice cream is super creamy and custardy with a proper tang from the rhubarb shot through it and the whole thing is made amazing by the frozen piece of rhubarb which makes it all taste a bit like a quarter of the eponymous sweeties. I revisited childhood memories and instead of being disappointed, it was even better than remembered…

 

Top Hats! Or make more of your marshmallows!

Top down new

My childhood was punctuated by marshmallows. One of our aunts had a particular soft spot for them and visits to her house weren’t complete without dipping into the bag of pink and white numbers in the kitchen drawer by the table, even if it was before dinner. We often toasted them in front of my granny’s open fire on the end of a proper toasting fork and tried not to burn our tongues. Guide camps were never quite complete without trying to concoct one of those exotic sounding s’mores we’d read about in American books, even though we only had some Scotbloc and an own brand Rich Tea biscuit to hand. Every party had the Northern Irish classic of Fifteens which combined digestives, marshmallows and glace cherries to heartstopping goodness. And that’s before Mister North brought me a jar of Marshmallow Fluff when he moved to England…

I think we could safely say that I like a marshmallow. Yet as an adult I never eat them. In fact I haven’t seen a packet to buy for years. The humble marshmallow has fallen out of fashion it seems. Nothing would do but to make them. How hard could it be?

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Wise yer bap… put pasties on them!

Growing up reciting the Lord’s Prayer everyday at school, it made perfect sense that we asked to be given our daily bread. Belfast is a city of bakeries and practically every meal, including our famous Ulster Fry, combines bread in some shape or form. In fact, the city even gives its name to the world famous crusty Belfast Bap.

Perfect filled with anything, mainly fried goods, this humble bread roll has an illustrious past. Invented by master baker, cross community pioneer and philanthropist Barney Hughes in the 1840s, it is credited with feeding the city during the Famine and ensuring it wasn’t as badly affected as many other parts of Ireland, paving the way for it to become one of the great industrial centres of the Empire, famed especially for shipbuilding, including the Titanic.

The Belfast bap is still baked daily back in Northern Ireland, forming the basis of many a meal. There’s few things that don’t taste better stuffed into a buttery Belfast bap. In fact, a crisp sandwich isn’t a crisp sandwich unless it’s Tayto Cheese & Onion on a proper burnt brown topped bap. But the ultimate Belfast meal is that stalwart of every chippie, the Pastie Bap.

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Irish Spiced Beef brings Christmas comfort…

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Having read Miss South’s glowing write-up before my latest visit to her, I was keen to read through Niamh Shields‘ “Comfort & Spice” cookbook. I sped read as much as possible in a short time, and one of the (many) wonderful recipes which caught my eye was Spiced Beef: an Irish dish which is traditionally served cold over the Christmas period. We’d normally have a decent-sized cold cut in the house over the holiday period, often the Coca Cola Ham which we wrote about last year.

However I can only remember having spiced beef once, when our mum brought back joint from the butcher. She’d fondly mentioned it from her childhood, but this shop-bought version was memorably unmemorable. So I’ve always wanted to make proper spiced beef from scratch, and Niamh’s recipe provided the perfect excuse to give it a go this year. I alternate between spending Christmas in the north of England, and returning to Belfast, and this year I was in Manchester with my girlfriend and her family. Having something which brought a taste of Ireland to the table was important to me… and having a cold joint to be able to pick and nibble at is always a bonus.

Spiced beef isn’t a complicated dish, but it does require some patience, preparation… and an ingredient which wasn’t available to the general public in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, which curtailed its consumption when we were growing up. Saltpetre aka potassium nitrate was a controlled substance, as it’s a key constituent of black powder (gunpowder). I’m not sure if it’s still verboten: I was lucky enough to be given some for this recipe by a friend. Saltpetre’s one of those relatively unknown but essential compounds on which the modern world has been built; used for fertiliser, food preservation, an oxiding agent for gunpowder and fireworks amongst other uses.*

I ordered the Christmas meat in advance from Stansfield’s in Todmorden Market –  the centrepiece of our Christmas meal was leg of venison – but Paul always has good beef and I picked up a weighty brisket form him last weekend.

Irish Spiced Beef (from Comfort & Spice)

  • 2kg beef brisket off the bone

The curing mix:

  • 1tsp allspice
  • 1tsp cloves
  • 1tsp fresh nutmeg
  • 1tsp mace
  • 75g soft brown sugar
  • 10g saltpetre
  • 100g sea salt

Combine all the ingredients for the curing mix and rub all over the brisket. Sterilise with boiling water a non metallic pot or plastic container into which the beef will fit snugly. Add the beef, cover and store in the fridge for eight days, turning daily and basting with any juices.

Wipe off the excess marinade and cover the beef with water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for two hours. Allow to cool and serve over the festive period as you would a ham.

First step: make the curing mix. I closely followed Niamh’s ingredients, with a couple of minor tweaks. I used Muscovado sugar, as I love its rich, sticky, almost smoky rawness. I also raided my extensive selection of salts to create a posh mix which would hopefully play up the strengths of the beef and spices, using Maldon Smoked Sea Salt, Guerande Grey Sea Salt, and Carmargue Fleur de Sel. Every recipe I’ve seen for dry-curing meat stresses that the quality of the salt is imperative, and they looked beautiful ranged on the plate too.

Spiced beef 1

I ground the whole allspice, nutmegs and cloves together, together with a cheeky tablespoon of mixed peppercorns to add a little bit more warmth to the mix. Then I combined the salt, sugar and saltpetre in a bowl, make a good stiff mix. The aroma was stunning: if you’re ever looking for a sure-fire way to enfuse your home with the sweet, aromatic and suggestive hints of winter, this really is it. It’s even better with a cockle-warming glass of hot port to aid the cook’s concentration!

Spiced beef 4

I sterilised a tupperware container, and placed the cured meat in it, sealing it tightly and placing it in the fridge. With six days between the initial preparation and Christmas Eve, the only requirements were to gently spoon and baste the spiced liquids over the joint daily. You’ll find a fair amount of juice will be drawn out of the meat by the cure. I tried my best to disturb as little of the spiced coating as possible, wanting to let the power of the spices permeate properly through the meat.

Spiced beef 7

On Christmas Eve we simmered the beef for a couple of hours, before letting it cool (patience is a virtue) and cautiously cutting a few slices off for a Christmas Eve nibble. As you can see, the beef had held its vivid rose hue thanks to the saltpetre, and the flavour was quite wonderful: warming, comforting and so tender. Paired with wholegrain mustard mixed into some mayo, and ranged with gherkins, this was a perfect sandwich: almost the Irish equivalent of New York pastrami. We didn’t leave any out for Father Christmas though, as it proved way too popular with everyone who tasted it.

Spiced beef 8

I’d also decided to have the Irish-themed starter on Christmas Day revolve around the spiced beef: after a night in the fridge the meat was even easier to thinly slice, and I plated it up with a small toasted piece of soda bread, a dab of redcurrant jelly, some cubes of Cashel Blue cheese, and a lightly dressed selection of watercress, rocket and baby spinach leaves. Everything worked well together: the sweetness of the jelly complementing the sharpness and warmth of the mustard vinaigrette, pepperiness of the rocket, the crisp of the bread… and of course that succulent, aromatic and oh-so tender beef. Needless to say, we’ve been cutting cheeky slices off the joint ever since, as it’s perfect for snacking and sating our cravings for seasonal cold meats.

Spiced beef 14

Thanks to Niamh aka @Eatlikeagirl for allowing us to reproduce the above: it’s a brilliant encapsulation of a traditional Irish recipe, and doesn’t suggest any of the adulterations which crop up in many US-oriented traditional ‘Oirish’ recipes. We’ve recommended it before and we’ll do it again… buy Comfort & Spice and make your kitchen a happier, better place!

*Update. This still remains a firm festive favourite dish in our family. The last couple of years I’ve not used saltpetre as part of the cure, as there’s increasing awareness of the potential health risks associated with nitrites used in processed or preserved meats. Without the saltpetre acting as a colour fixative the spiced beef isn’t as rosy, but tastes just as good… and even a large 1.5kg joint rarely lasts more than a few days, so as long as you follow standard good practise for food hygiene, there’s no need for the preservative qualities of saltpetre. You may or may not chose to exclude saltpetre from the recipe when you make this dish.

Finished potato apple bread

Potato Apple Bread

Finished potato apple bread

I grew up on apples and even though more fashionable and fancy fruits have come along since then, none of them have replaced the apple as well, the apple of my eye. Our grandmother lived near County Armagh – with its world famous apple trees – and had an orchard of her own on the farm that produced beautiful Bramleys in abundance. A visit to her’s wasn’t complete without a slice of apple pie.

Another treat I remember when I used to stay with her in the school holidays was the Ulster classic of potato apple bread. Sheets of stodgy but delicious potato bread, filled with tart apple and fried til golden brown on the outside. It is a total treat at anytime, but particularly tastes of autumn when you could pick the apples freshly. It also used to pop up as a seasonal treat in the bakeries of Belfast as the leaves turned and the school year started.

I always thought it was a fiendishly tricky thing to make until I whipped up a batch of potato bread for the first time a few years ago and realised it’s as easy as falling off a log. It followed that the apple version couldn’t be much trickier. And after getting my hands on some Lambeth apples courtesy of Incredible Edible Lambeth and the London Orchard Project at the new monthly Make It Grow It Sell It market, the time had come to try it out.

Potato bread is traditionally made with leftover mashed potatoes, but if you manage to have leftover mash in your house then you’re a better person than I. Instead I peeled about 300g of Maris Pipers, boiled until tender, drained and dried well and added a knob of salted butter before mashing well. Don’t add milk or you’ll end up with something akin to babyfood with this recipe. The salted butter stops the potato being bland so don’t skip it.

Then add around 3/4 cup or 75 grammes of plain flour into the mashed potato and form a dough. You may need more flour ,depending on the wetness of your spuds. Mix well to form a stiff but malleable dough. Knead for a few minutes to firm it up and try to keep it moving all the time or it sticks to your surface and forms a gluey mess.

While you are making the potato dough, put your apples on to stew down. I like them fairly chunky so don’t chop too finely and don’t add more than a tablespoon of water to them while they cook. I don’t add any sugar as I prefer the tart tanginess of apple than the sweet applesauce vibe. You could add cinnamon or cloves if you like too, but I didn’t bother.

Take about a fist-sized lump of the potato dough and roll out on some greaseproof paper until it’s as thin as you can without it being difficult to work with or likely to rip. Then place on a plate and cover with your stewed apple, leaving a good lip round the edge. But don’t skimp on filling! Then roll out another fist sized lump of dough on the greaseproof paper and place on top of the appley bit and seal well with your fingers making an enclosed sandwich.

Slide into a well-heated oiled frying pan. Give it about 4 minutes either side, but keep an eye so it doesn’t burn. Potato bread seems to stay raw for ages and then cook completely before you’ve even realised. Once golden and gorgeous on either side, I like to eat it as quickly as the insanely-hot apple filling will allow without hurting yourself.

It works really really well. The slightly salted potato brings out the sweet tang of the apples and it makes a perfect breakfast if you fancy a change from standard tattie bread. You can also serve it cooled down for elevenses or an afternoon snack with a big mug of strong tea. There just isn’t a time it’s not utterly delicious. Just make more than you expected: everyone wants seconds of this one!