Is it just me or……..

…….are artichokes the most daunting thing ever?  Where did they come from anyway? It’s like some little green martian accidentally dropped one out of his backpack whilst here scoping the earth as a potential new colony for his martian people (meople?).

And actually, the martians use them as war missiles but us crazy humans saw them growing everywhere and thought eating them would be a great idea.  Meanwhile, the little green people are looking down at this funny little planet with its strange inhabitants that are inexplicably making dip out of their weapons.

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And I’m surely not the only one who collapses into fits of giggles every-time that meerkat ad airs.  Seriously? I barely even know what they are advertising since I’m usually rolling on the floor by the time they get to the point.

Oh and I can’t be alone in thinking that celebrity is no excuse to try out ludicrous names on your children.  Is anyone else waiting for poor little North West’s parents to announce that it was all just a silly joke and that they actually named her Jane?

Please tell me it’s not just me….

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Also, is anyone else completely in awe that if you whip egg whites long enough and fast enough, they transform into snowy peaks?  The science geek in me is secretly excited every time this happens…..the denaturing of proteins to turn slimy egg whites into glorious edible snow.

And furthermore, you can sweeten and flavour this almost solid white froth and bake it to crispy-chewy mounds.  Mounds that you can top with cream, syrup, fruit or whatever you fancy and call it dessert!

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Oh yes, the theme of this month’s Sweet Adventures Blog Hop, hosted by Claire K Creations, was Meringue Madness so I just had to try my hand at fructose-free meringues.  I replaced caster sugar with dextrose and although they bled a bit, this didn’t seem to affect them in the end and they were pretty darn good.  You could flavour these with whatever essence takes your fancy (I intend to try rosewater next time) and top them just about anything.  I went with this fructose-free lemon curd, some cream and some lovely fresh blueberries.

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Fructose-free Meringues

Makes 6

Modified from Donna Hay Magazine

Get:

4 egg whites
1 cup dextrose powder
1 tsp white vinegar

Make:

Preheat the oven to 120 C.

Beat egg whites initially on low speed, then on high speed until stiff peaks form.

Drizzle in vinegar and any flavouring, and sprinkle in dextrose bit  by bit, beating briefly with each addition.  Beat until sugar is completely incorporated.

Line a baking tray with baking paper or a silicone mat and grease lightly.  Dollop large scoops of the mixture onto the tray and flatten out slightly.  Bake on the middle shelf for 40 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave them in there to cool for an hour or so.

Top with whatever you like and serve.

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Falling out of the sky and Chocolate Fudge

There are so many things in this world that we just trust, unquestioningly.  Whether it is based on knowledge, conditioning, or an element of religious faith, we rely on the predictability of certain events and functions that will keep us safe and get us through life.

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We trust that when we stop at a red light, the programming of the lights is such that they will never all turn green at once as that is the way the traffic functions, allowing everyone to get around safely.  Never once do we worry that one day something may go wrong with that computer that holds all the programming, leading to chaos on the road.

We are taught to cross the road when the little green man makes an appearance and we trust that when we do cross, the cars will stop as they should because, well, them’s the rules!

And my day job……well, that is a whole exercise in trust in itself.  On a day to day basis, I perform procedures on sometimes aggressive animals held by nurses who are thankfully highly capable and have our interests at heart.  I rely on this as well as the fact that they pride themselves in not letting us get hurt, an assurance that allows me to do my job to the best of my ability.

Two weeks ago, I took the ultimate leap of faith, trusting in many things that were well beyond my control.  I willingly jumped out of a plane at about 14,000 ft above the water and I did so with (mostly) unwavering faith that the professional skydiver strapped to my back knew exactly how to keep me alive.  That when he did pull the cord, the parachute would release and inflate as it should, allowing me to enjoy the view (oh that dazzling coastline!) while we floated gently down to land ungracefully on my butt on soft grass.
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All those things did happen as they should.  But what I wasn’t quite prepared for was the incredible rush.  Those 45 seconds or so when we were plummeting towards the earth, cold wind whipping my face, freezing my eyeballs and the inside of my mouth which was grinning and screaming all at once.  Then the parachute went up and in the video, I can pinpoint the moment when I looked up to see that beautiful, billowing, colourful thing that would float me down safely.

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The sensation over the next few minutes can best be described as hovering.  That feeling of weightlessness is something I could never have imagined.  Suspended above the land and water on a stunningly clear day while slowly feasting my eyes on that impossibly blue water, the line of froth and the voluptuous coastline where it met the sand, is an experience that surpasses any I’ve ever had.  And when we landed, it felt like it was over all too soon, that it would’ve been lovely to hover just for a little longer if it weren’t for the party pooper that is the pull of gravity.

If you feel the urge to jump out of the sky from a moving plane, this is where I did it and I found the company and the staff to be very friendly, highly professional and most importantly, very capable of deploying a parachute at just the right time.

This fudge is something else you can completely trust in.  It is the simplest fudge recipe I’ve ever seen and it works, every time.  It is my go-to recipe if I’m time poor and required to bring a plate to a function.  I always take home an empty plate and many compliments.

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Okay, so technically it’s not proper fudge in that it doesn’t involve sweating over a bubbling vat of sugar and cream, vigorously stirring with one hand whilst trying to hold both the pan and the candy thermometer in the other hand.

But somehow I don’t think the fudge Gods will mind!

I can’t remember exactly where it came from but I’m pretty sure the original is a Nigella Lawson Recipe.

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Simple Chocolate Fudge

Get:

300g decent to good quality dark chocolate (or a combination of dark and milk)
30g butter
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Add ins (optional):

Finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/3-1/2 cup nuts, preferably roasted
1/3 cup white chocolate chips
Anything else you think may work!

Make:

Line a baking tray with grease-proof paper.

In the top bowl of a double boiler, place chocolate, butter, condensed milk and any aromatics that you are using.  Stir over medium heat until chocolate and butter melt and the whole thing combines to a smooth mixture.

Take top bowl off the heat and stir in any other add-ins (nuts, chocolate chips, etc).

Pour mixture into paper-lined tray and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

When set, cut into squares or diamonds with a sharp knife.

Serve to thunderous applause.

Notes:

To create a double boiler, you need a saucepan half full of water and another dry saucepan/pot that sits on top of the first one without actually touching the water.  You put the chocolate etc in the top pan to melt it gently without burning it.

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The Tale of Gilbert (Watermelon, Mint and Ginger Sorbet)

There was once a friendly watermelon called Gilbert.  When Gilbert was a young boy-melon, he found himself on a shelf in a fruit shop surrounded by equally juicy watermelons.

Gilbert longed to leave the fruit shop and find a loving home.  Being a rather amicable melon, Gilbert one day struck up a conversation with one of the fruit shop’s customers, a veterinarian and a watermelon enthusiast.
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Gilbert was overjoyed and looked forward to his destiny of being sliced and devoured on a hot summers day.  He found his place on the dining table and awaited his opportunity to show off his refreshing, lush qualities.

But alas, the veterinarian became far too lazy busy to undertake the onerous task of watermelon dissection and Gilbert was left neglected and wondering whether he would ever be given a chance to fulfill his fate.

For days Gilbert sat dejected on the table that no-one used, emitting dramatic sighs that no-one seemed to hear.  He watched his keeper rush to work in the morning in her surgical scrubs.  He waited all day for her, sure that she would be missing him too.

He saw her return every evening with a spark of hope that perhaps today would be the day, only to be disappointed.  And so he waited, his crisp red flesh aching with longing to be devoured although his tough green armour gave nothing away.

He observed her as she cooked and ate her meals without a glance towards where he sat.  He watched TV with her, patiently.

(It must be said that while he rather enjoyed ‘How I met your mother’, he found ‘My Kitchen Rules’ really quite offensive- although really, haven’t we all at times?)

He waited and waited until one day the veterinarian who usually walked past him unseeing, stopped and finally looked straight at him!

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And before he knew it, Gilbert was in quarters.  A quarter was cubed and devoured fresh, another quarter was turned into sorbet and the rest was juiced.  Most importantly, all of him was thoroughly enjoyed and Gilbert finally, finally, met his destiny……….

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Watermelon, Mint and Ginger Sorbet

Modified from Australian Good Taste Magazine, Jan 2006, via taste.com.au

Get:

2 cups water
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 inch piece fresh ginger, finely grated
Small handful mint leaves, finely chopped
1kg Gilbert or other watermelon flesh roughly chopped
1 egg white

Make:

Place water, sugar, ginger and mint in a saucepan and stir over low heat for a few mins until the sugar dissolves.  Increase heat and bring to t boil, boiling for 5-10 mins until the mixture thickens to a thin syrupy consistency.

Blend watermelon in a blender or food processor until pureed.  Strain the puree through a fine sieve into an airtight container suitable for freezing.  Discard the pulp or use in smoothies.  Alternatively you can use a juicer to extract the juice. You should have around 600ml of juice.

Add sugar syrup to the watermelon juice and stir to mix.  Place the lid on the container and place it in the freezer for at least 5-6 hours.

Using a fork to break up the sorbet, transfer it to a food processor or blender and whizz until the sorbet has a 7-11 slushie texture.  Return the sorbet to the container and place it back in the freezer for a further 5-6 hours.  Blend again to a slushie consistency and return to the freezer for another 5-6 hours.  Place the sorbet in the blender with an egg white and whizz again until it is a soft, smooth consistency.  Place back in the freezer and freeze for another 5-6 hours.

Scoop into bowls and enjoy.

Notes:

The original recipe called for 2 egg whites but I choose to just add one as I was worried about it being too slimy.  I was happy with the texture I ended up with.

The original recipe called for a cup of sugar but I reduced it to 3/4 in the interest of health.  After tasting it, I felt I could have actually decreased it further, to 1/2 cup.  If you like a sweeter sorbet, stick to 3/4 cup or even use a whole cup of sugar.

This recipe is really not as time consuming as it seems, however you should start making it 36-48 hours before you need to serve it.  I made it one evening, left it in the freezer overnight, then blended it up the next morning, again the next evening and did the final blend with the egg white the following morning.

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Save-the-day Mango Dessert

Right, so you finally got your act together and invited those friends over for dinner.

You know the ones…..

They are invited to every birthday of yours, and you to theirs.  And each time you see them, there are promises that you must catch up properly soon, that it’s been far too long and that you really shouldn’t let that much time go by before you see each other next.

But somehow as earnest and genuine all these promises are, before you know it six months have gone by before you finally do get around to inviting them over.

So the day arrives and you have this menu of mammoth proportions planned in your mind.

You jump out of bed, bright eyed and bushy tailed (ok, so in my case it’s usually a reluctant and creaky scramble out of bed after at least 3 hits of the snooze button, but I’m guessing there are some (insane) morning people out there).

So once you’ve done whatever it is you need to do in the morning to return you to some semblance of a human being, you go to the gym, stop off at the supermarket on your way home to get supplies and before you know it, half the day is mysteriously over.

Please tell me I’m not the only person this happens to….?

Vacuum, bathrooms, laundry, make the main meal, tidy up the living room, make a salad, load dishwasher, clean kitchen, pick out not-too-mainstream-but-not-too-weird music for the evening, shower, find clothes, wear clothes, put wine in fridge.

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And somewhere in all that, the likelihood of actually making that cheesecake or pannacotta or apple pie that you had planned for dessert becomes but a tiny speck on the horizon.

This is when this dessert saves the day.  A dessert so impressive but more importantly, so ludicrously easy that it will catapult you from barely organised slightly frazzled hostess to certifiable domestic goddess.

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A layer of jelly (or jell-O depending which hemisphere you’re at) topped by a mango fool and garnished with something crunchy.  Serve it in a martini glass and it’ll be ultra sexy (hey, it worked for Beyonce), or in a drinking glass or glass jars for super cute quirkiness.

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Easy Mango Dessert

Get:

1 packet mango flavoured jelly crystals (to make 500ml jelly)
Flesh of 2 small mangoes or 425g tin of mango in syrup
Pinch Saffron
3 tsp caster sugar
Insides of 8 cardamom pods
300ml fresh whipping cream

Make:

Make the jelly according to packet instructions.  If using martini glasses, pour 1/4 cup of the mixture into each glass.  Drinking glasses may fit a little more jelly.  Chill for at least 4 hours to set.

Blitz the mango with 2 tsp water or syrup (if using tinned), saffron and 1/2 tsp sugar to achieve a thick saucy consistency.  Add a little more water or syrup if needed.  Taste and add more sugar if required.

Using a mortar and pestle or an electric grinder, powder the cardamom with 1/2 tsp sugar.  Place the cream in a deep bowl.  Using a hand held electric beater, whip the cream on medium speed until soft peaks are achieved.  Be careful not to go too far as there is a fine line between soft and firm peaks.  Sprinkle cardamom sugar as well as the remaining 2 tsp sugar over the whipped cream and beat on low speed until mixed.  Taste and add more sugar if required.

Add mango sauce to cream and fold in gently to create a swirled through effect.

Divide cream between the glasses, placing on top of the firm jelly.

Top with garnish of your choice, preferably something with crunch.  I used some fresh coconut and almond flakes, toasted gently in a dry frypan over the stove.  Half a tablespoon of each per glass should do it.  Crushed meringues, pomegranate seeds, berries, any other nuts and chocolate shavings would also make great toppings, but feel free to unleash your creativity into the glass.

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