Paniyiri Greek festival

Yassou!

Today we travelled down to South Brisbane to experience our first ever Paniyiri Greek Festival. We lived in Brisbane for 8 years and never got there – not until we moved away! It’s been running longer than I’ve been alive and it’s pretty popular here.

Thankfully Mr B. was home (it made crowd control easier!), and we picked up Mum & her partner Dave on the way, then met our friends once we got there. We entered in the sideshow alley area and quickly steered the kids through – we were on a mission, a mission to find good Greek food. At that stage it was only 11.30am, and the food stalls were already a mass of hungry people waiting patiently in line.

Lots of people, and lots of smoke from all the grilling!

Ben and I ate chicken souvlaki and shared a meze plate to sample a few different things – octopus, calamari, haloumi, dolmades and greek salad. It was all delicious but the dolmades were sensational – it was so tempting to go back for more later!

The kids shared some honey puffs…sweet, sticky goodness!

After filling our tum’s we wandered up the hill to see the organisers rounding up volunteers for an olive-eating competition. Mum initially volunteered and we found our spots to watch, until she saw the first round and discovered they were not pitted, and she couldn’t use her hands! She chickened out, which was disappointing…I was hoping to see her work her way through a bowl of olives in a very unlady-like manner!

Upstairs into the Greek Club next to watch a cooking demonstration – we didn’t catch the start of the session so I’m not sure exactly what was being made, but I’m sure I heard ‘shortbread’. The two ladies demonstrating had such a funny banter going on, and were discussing the merits of using either brandy or ouzo in that recipe as opposed to vanilla essence – what a great idea!

We grabbed a chocolate cannoli to share on our way back down to the main entertainment area – no photo’s as it was gone in about 6 seconds, yum! – then settled in to watch some Hellenic dancing for a little while.

The men were dancing with these fluffy pom-pom shoes – I’d love to know the significance of these if anyone knows?

By that stage the kids were getting restless so we took them down to the rides area. This was their ‘ride’ of choice…

…but once we saw the $12 price tag and the 30 minute wait we diverted them to this behemoth instead…

I was thinking about all the spanakopita and baklava that awaited me, but the food lines were ridiculous and my head was p.o.u.n.d.i.n.g. The plate smashing was yet to begin but let’s face it, I’d had my fair share of that in my own kitchen over the years so I could live without more of it today.

We left the festival and took the kids to the nearby museum for an hour for some ‘quiet’ time before hitting the highway for the trip home (with some haloumi tucked away safely in the esky bag – thanks Craig!).

The success of Paniyiri is a testament to the Greek community not only in Brisbane, but to all those who travel there to make the festival such an amazing feast for the senses. If you get the opportunity to go, I’d highly recommend it for the future – I’ll certainly be back again next year!

 

Book review with Yangzhou Fried Rice

A week or so ago I finished another foodie memoir, Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper, written by an English lady by the name of Fuschia Dunlop (as the owner of a flowery name, I appreciate other floral first names and I love hers more than mine!). At the time I was struggling with the decision to add more meat to my diet, and I found the text quite heavy going at times for my still-vegetarian stomach. I’m glad I persevered – I really enjoyed her travel stories and she brought not only China but the Chinese people to life for me in ways I couldn’t previously imagine.

There were several reasons I was interested in this book; apart from the fact I love food memoirs, I’m also keen to expand my Asian cooking repertoire, and learn a little more about the kinds of foods my dad is eating. He’s been living in and around Shanghai for the past 12 months with his wife Jin, and often recounts his dining experiences. Here’s an excerpt from my dad’s recent email:

We recently visited some of Jin’s relatives in a Central China. You can see from this photo we are all sitting at a big round table – this seems to be standard at restaurants when more than about 6 people get together. One interesting thing about this is that all the dishes are on a central ‘lazy susan’, everyone uses their own chopsticks to help themselves from the centre. So, anyone with some lovely germs can spread them to all at the table, from their own mouth to their chopsticks to the central dish where everyone can get as many germs as they like. The food on the table is a variety of meats and vegetables, some soup and tofu. There will always be some sort of soup and always fish, always rice.

I sometimes go with Jin to the local food market, it is very interesting walking around there. The prices are quite cheap and the vegetables appear to be very fresh. The meats are interesting – Jin usually gets a couple of chickens, the chickens are chosen when they are alive, the man will then slit their throats, then give them a quick pluck and gutting before cutting them into small pieces for us to take home – everything goes into the pot at home including the head and feet. We also sometimes buy eels, they are also bought live and killed and cut up in front of us. Also at the market we can buy live turtles, live bullfrogs, etc – I don’t go much on them. Sometimes I see someone serving food with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth. I remember at a small cafe recently we were sitting outside, our order included fish which we chose live from a tank – the chef took the live fish from the tank and beat it to death on the pavement beside our table!

Can you spot my dad?!

I’m sure this is nothing new for millions (or gazillions) of people, but it’s very different to our style of eating. I grew up in a traditional Aussie home with Spaghetti bolognaise on the table – never an animal in sight!

Fuschia Dunlop first visited China in 1992 as an Asia-Pacific news editor, and chronicled her experiences over the next 15 years – upon arriving, she made the decision to “eat whatever the Chinese might put in front of me”. She not only recounts her amazing travel adventures and provides detailed historical anecdotes, but tantalises us with the flavours and textures she experienced whilst there.

Read this excerpt, from p.138.

Chinese chefs and gourmets talk often about ou gan, or ‘mouthfeel’. Certain textures are especially prized. Cui, for example, denotes a particular quality of crispness that is found in fresh crunchy vegetables, blanched pig’s kidneys, and goose intenstines, not to mention sea cucumbers that have been properly cooked. Cui crispeness offers resistance to the teeth, but finally yields, clearly, with a pleasant snappy feeling. It is distinct from su, which is the dry, fragile, fall-apart crispeness of deep-fried duck skin or taro dumplings. Some foods, like the skin of a barbecued suckling pig, can be described as su cui because they offer both types of crispness, simultaneously. … In the English language, with all its expressive beauty and startling diversity, it is hard to describe the appeal of a braised sea cucumber. Try as you might, you end up sounding comical, or revolting. A Chinese gourmet will distinguish between the bouncy gelatinous quality of sea cucumbers, the more sticky, slimy gelatinousness of reconstituted dried squid, and the chewy gelationousness of reconstituted pig’s foot tendons. In English, it all sounds like a dog’s dinner.

Dunlop not only wheedled her way into the kitchens of the eateries she favoured to take her own notes, but she became the first Westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. She subsequently published two Chinese cookbooks which you can read more about on her website.

There are many descriptions of her favourite street-snack noodles, the meals she shared with villagers, and sumptious banquets, but the lengthy list of animals she devoured lingered the most in my kind… preserved duck eggs feature early on, and are swiftly followed by dog, cat, rabbit tongue, deer tail, chicken feet, goat testicles and rat brains, to name just a few. She also spoke about her feelings towards the use of MSG, and her last few chapters dealt with many ethical and legal issues facing the Chinese way of eating. Each chapter finishes with either a recipe or foodie notes, including a recipe for ‘Stewed Bear’s Paw’, for ‘illustrative purposes only’ she states!

Her Yangzhou Fried Rice sounded so different to the fried rice I’ve been making for years, so I naturally had to make it to see how it compared! I doubled her recipe because there was no way I was not getting leftovers out of this, but otherwise the ingredients are pretty much the same.

Yangzhou Fried Riceadapted from Shark’s fin & Sichuan Pepper, Fuschia Dunlop

  • 2 1/2 cups uncooked Jasmine rice (around 250g)
  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 50g pork
  • 50g frozen or fresh prawns
  • 50g cooked ham or bacon
  • 50g cooked chicken
  • 50g frozen peas or soybeans (shelled edamame)
  • 50g bamboo shoots
  • 4 spring onions, green parts only
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
  • 200 ml Chicken stock
  • 6 Tablespoon peanut oil

  1. Cook the rice using your preferred method (I use a rice cooker) and allow to cool.
  2. Soak the shiitake mushrooms for 30 minutes in hot water, then drain, remove stems and finely slice.
  3. Finely dice the pork, prawns, bacon, chicken and bamboo shoots, and finely slice the spring onions. Beat the egg and season with salt & pepper.
  4. Heat 3 Tablespoons oil in a hot wok, then add pork and prawns, stir-frying briefly until pork is just cooked. Add the bacon, chicken, and bamboo shoots and stir-fry until sizzling. Add the mushrooms and soybeans, then the Shaoxing wine and stock and bring to the boil.
  5. Season with salt and then remove to a separate bowl.
  6. Clean, dry and re-oil wok, add remaining oil and once heated, add beaten egg. Swirl around wok until half-cooked, then add rice and mix through. After a minute or two, add the cooked ingredients in their broth and mix well until combined. Add spring onions, season to taste with salt & pepper, and serve whilst hot.

Notes

* These quantities make around 6 serves as a main dish, or 10-12 as a side. Mr B. and I ate a big bowl each for dinner and have 4 tupperware containers in the freezer waiting for another meal – yippee!

My ‘normal’ fried rice, made almost weekly here because I love it so much, features a predictable mix of garlic, ginger, celery, spring onions and a good dash of soy and oyster sauce. I also load my version up with vegies, usually carrot, peas, capsicum, broccoli, mushrooms and corn spears. My version is much drier than this one.

This flavoursome rice is much more reminiscent of the Chinese take-away fried rice I remember from my childhood. I loved the softness and the variety of meaty flavours it contained, but I missed my vegies! I think in future I’ll meld this recipe with my own to try and come up with the ultimate fried rice recipe – any excuse to keep eating it!

What’s floating your boat today?

Today I’m ridiculously excited – Mr B. arrived home yesterday, one week earlier than expected. BUT (there’s always a but!), he’s home early because of an unexpected roster change, which means he goes back to work next week for 3 WEEKS! Gah!

For today though, I’m like a kid in a candy store. Yes I’m excited to have another adult to talk to, to assist with cleaning and bathing and disciplining the maniacs, and to feel like a proper family again. More importantly though – I can cook! I can make real dinners, hooray!

When I’m on my own with three kids, 5pm is definitely the worst time of day. I so dearly want to disappear into my cave (the kitchen!), but instead I am refereeing arguments and detaching the whining toddler from my leg. Every day. For weeks on end.

I’ve always wondered why that time of day is called ‘the witching hour’. When they’re screaming blue murder at 3am as a baby, that’s the kind of witching hour you want the goblins to appear in and take little Toby away; to a place where David Bowie has awesome hair, funky tights and rockin’ friends. Little Toby will be safe there!

Dance, magic, dance!

When my kids carry on at the 5pm witching hour, I’m kinda wishing there were witches around to either scare them into submission, or turn them into mice like the wonderful Angelica Huston…

Oh wait a minute, that’s exactly what I look and sound like most evenings! Better keep practicing my spells (and watching less 80’s films) and get the cauldron bubbling.

Know what my kids get for dinner on those fun nights? Not slugs, snails and puppy dog tails, but exciting stuff like Fish Finger Rolls!

Yummy! Or maybe my five-minute friend – Nachos.

If I’m feeling particularly guilty about the lack of vegetables in their diet, I cut up some salad vegies and they can make their own dinner – taco’s. Aren’t I creative?

So I won’t be winning mother of the year award this year…but today I don’t give a hoot because I know I’ll be in the kitchen tonight cooking up some good grub…without a toddler attached to me, and without my witches hat on. That really floats my boat…what about you?

Fish & Cauliflower Pie with nutty carrots

My birth date is in March, and my star sign is Pisces – I’m a ‘mutable’ water sign, and I do truly follow the flow wherever it takes me. Ironically though, when it comes to cooking and eating fish, my experiences are fairly basic. After seeing Nami’s very impressive  Cantonese steamed Fish I’ve been thinking about fish an awful lot.

My experiences with fish to date include:

  • battered fish & chips being the takeaway of choice up and down the Eastern seaboard of Australia – I love those memories of the torn, greasy paper holding a piece of fish, a wedge of lemon and some soggy chips. I can remember not only where I’ve eaten the crunchiest chips (Burleigh Heads), the best calamari (our local – Mooloolaba Spit) and the tastiest fish (Watson’s Bay, Sydney), but the people I’ve shared those experiences with.
  • a few attempts at grilled fish during my uni days, using lemony & chilli foil parcels in a crappy oven in our share house.
  • eating tuna and onion sandwiches in a roadside park whilst on a road trip with my nan – oh my, how I despise tuna! Seriously, is it not the same as cat food?
  • Oktoberfest 2002 – watching a German man with a very long moustache eat a herring and onion roll. I had taken a pregnancy test that day in the hotel (I was about 10 weeks pregnant with Alex) and was feeling particularly squeamish. I still remember that fish head sitting alongside his moustache.

Random herring eating pic, thanks George – picture this man with a mo!

I ate fish as a vegetarian (pescatarian, whatever) but never made much effort to cook with it. Growing up, my dad wasn’t a big fish fan because he disliked getting the bones out. Funnily enough, Mr B’s dad is not a big seafood fan either because of a bone-stuck-in-the-throat experience, so it was never on the menu very often at home for me as a child or adult.

Whilst I would love to cook with fresh seafood more often, it’s ridiculously expensive. Our fabulous local fish catches are exported overseas and we either pay $10-$20 per kilo for inferior imported products of dubious origin, or $30+ per kilo for local options, not all of which are fresh.

I lashed out today and bought a big piece of perch – but not big enough to feed the whole family. I comprised and did what frugal mothers everywhere resort to – I made it stretch further. I knew I wanted to turn it into a pie of some description but needed more inspiration, so I turned to my new favourite ‘healthy’ cookbook, OMG! I can eat that?

Remember the zucchini pizza crust? It’s a firm favourite here now, and one of many recipes from Jane Kennedy’s second book that I’m certain I’ll be making a lot. Whilst I really loved her debut cookbook Fabulous Food, Minus the Boombah (reviewed here), her second book has won me over so much that I made encouraged my children to buy it for me for Mother’s Day. There are so many recipes that have grabbed my attention, and her fish ‘piemakin’ was one of them. She defines her ‘piemakins’ as pies served in ramekins without the boombah pastry. Perfect!

I adapted Jane’s recipe a little as I only had one piece of fish, and added some chopped prawns and peas to bulk out the seafood component.

Fish & Cauliflower Pies

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons white wine
  • 1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
  • 250ml (1 cup) fish or vegetable stock
  • 400g firm white fish fillets, cubed
  • 1/2 cup baby peas
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • tablespoon of chopped tarragon
  • tablespoon of chopped flat-leaf parsley

Topping

  • 1 cauliflower
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon Greek yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon horseradish
  • 50g grated parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Heat the butter and olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and saute onion and garlic until soft. Add wine and let it simmer for a few minutes. Stir in the wholegrain mustard, and season with salt & pepper.
  2. Add stock, stir through and let it bubble for a few minutes. Add fish (and prawns if desired), lemon juice, lemon zest, tarragon and parsley, reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Cook cauliflower with milk in a saucepan or microwave until tender. Add yoghurt, horseradish, and season with salt & pepper. Process in a food processor or with a stick blender until smooth – it should look like mashed potato.
  4. Transfer fish mixture to desired serving dish – use a shallow casserole dish, or 4 ramekins or pie tins. Top with cauliflower mix, sprinkle with parmesan and bake in oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden.

I served the individual fish pies with a carrot recipe I discovered in a hefty tome I borrowed from the library called Home Cooking. I gather it’s author, Rachel Allen, might be a bit of a big shot somewhere but I’ve never heard of her. Her fab carrots really called out to me from the pages though…

Buttered Carrots with a nutty crumble topping – serves 4-6 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 4 medium-large carrots
  • 60g butter
  • 30g flaked almonds
  • 60g breadcrumbs
  • 30g grated parmesan
  1. Peel carrots, slice into desired thicknesses and cook in saucepan or microwave until just tender.
  2. Melt butter in a frying pan until frothy, then pour 1/3 into a bowl for later.
  3. Add almonds to frying pan and cook for 2-3 minutes or until golden, then add breadcrumbs and season with salt & pepper. Cook for another 2-3 minutes then stir through parmesan.
  4. Drain carrots and mix reserved melted butter throughout. Serve immediately as a side dish, with sprinkled crumble on top.

Notes

  • Rachel’s original recipe uses 15g of finely chopped hazelnuts and 15g of flaked almonds – I stuck with almonds this time. I also used parmesan instead of Gruyere, and omitted the chopped parsley she used, mostly because it was dark and I didn’t want to go out to the garden to get some!

These carrots were seriously good, although far too much crumble to carrot ratio – I have a whole container of it leftover, and hopefully it will still be crisp enough to use tomorrow. This photo doesn’t do justice to the nuttiness at work here, and it’s a big improvement on the fancy sesame honey carrots I learnt to make in  high school home ec classes.

The fish pie was a light and fulfilling meal – I was feeling particularly virtuous after eating such a healthy & satisfying dinner! I felt the tarragon was a little overwhelming so would cut back on that next time, but otherwise I really enjoyed the flavour, and the cauliflower mash is just genius.

Now if Mr B. and the kids could catch some more fresh fish, we’d be enjoying these dishes more often…no pressure honey!

Happy Mother’s Day to frazzled mothers everywhere!

It’s come to my attention there is a parallel universe out there somewhere, populated by children who do nice things for their mother on Mother’s Day. They carry pancakes on a tray to their mother for breakfast, who waits perfectly coiffed in bed with a beaming smile. Afterwards they present her with a plethora of wrapped gifts (slippers and PJ’s seem to be popular), a bunch of flowers and sprinkle rose petals in her path as she walks around the house. They not only take her out for lunch, but are perfectly behaved…okay that’s enough. Did anyone outside of the Target catalogue have a day like this today? Because if you did, I’m really very happy for you. But please don’t tell me about it. Just pretend your day was as crappy as mine.

My kids didn’t remember to say Happy Mother’s Day to me until Mr B. called from work to remind them at 9am, at which point I was presented with lovely handmade cards, a few sweet gifts and lots of kisses and cuddles. The lovin’ lasted about 12 minutes. Then it was on to bickering, pushing, yelling, crying, attempted dog strangulation and general craziness. And only some of that was the kids!

Here’s an excerpt from the card Alex wrote for me…

You are as sweet as a freshly picked rose. You are as beautiful as a daisy swaying in the breeze. Your cooking is sooo good Nigella gapes in amazement.

So that was very sweet and quite funny, it made up for the fact he was too lazy to wrap my present, and I got on with making lunch. My mum and her partner (Poppy Dave) arrived and attempted to referee the maniacs whilst I got everything until control, and we finally sat down to a very nice lunch. With some very nice champagne. That kind of made everything better.

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms with grilled haloumi and vegetable salad.

  1. Google Portobello Mushroom recipes, find one you like then completely change half the ingredients because of what you have in the fridge. Ponder why they are sometimes called Portabello and sometimes Portabella. It’s just a big bloody mushroom with a fancy name.
  2. Stuff your mushroom with available ingredients – I used ricotta (mixed with egg), parmesan cheese, sauteed garlic & capsicum, spinach & some chopped cooked chicken breast. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and mozzarella. Decide never to buy that brand of mozzarella again because it is so ugly.
  3. Place mushrooms in baking dish & cook in oven. Try to grill capsicum, eggplant & zucchini without burning them whilst chatting nonchalantly with guests, trying to ignore screaming children and surreptitiously checking the balsamic vinegar to check it hasn’t gone rancid since last use several months ago.
  4. Mix spinach leaves & rocket with grilled vegetables and desired salad dressing, add some prosciutto if your newly-omnivorous stomach can handle it, then top with seared haloumi…because squeaky cheese makes everything AWESOME.
  5. Serve to hungry guests and crack open the champers.

After lunch mum & I were joking about me going away on a holiday – by myself. Mia, the little charmer, seemed quite excited by that idea because she decided she could then go and live with her friend Ella and life would be more fun. She insisted several times I should pack my bags tonight. I was feeling the love.

It was a lovely catch up with my mum, and the afternoon was a bit quieter thanks to some bribery on my part. I can unequivocally say I love my children to bits and wouldn’t trade them for anything – but that’s because they’re all asleep and I’m a little bit tanked.

Happy Mother’s Day to Mum’s everywhere – I hope your day was as memorable as mine!

A week of Juggling

This week there’s a familiar feeling creeping in with the cold air. It’s that feeling of spending every waking minute trying to keep all the balls in the air. That juggling act whereby all the balls hold equal importance, and even though you know you can’t drop any, you hope that the few that slip out of your fingers will bounce back.

The children form the most important ball for me to look after – this week I’ve been wiping away the sniffles (green, snotty noses really, but who needs o hear that?!), trying to ease coughs at all hours and yesterday I was the rock and Oliver the limpet. He was attached to me all. day. long.

Housework is the ball I care least about, and resent the fact I have to keep it up. Unfortunately, clothes don’t wash & iron themselves, and I’m yet to have that magic fairy appear to vacuum, mop, make beds and slip daiquiri’s into my hand.

My studies are getting very little attention…that ball is only just staying up there.

School and the outside world is the ball I must be seen to keep up, to keep it polished and shiny, and free from any blemishes. Yes I’ve forgotten the excursion note, the mother’s day raffle and my kids have had vegemite sandwiches every day this week, but I’ve helped with readers twice and not worn my tracky pants once to do pick-up!

Family & friends, I’m sorry to see your ball dropped too many times. It always bounces back, but it shouldn’t have to.

There’s too much juggling for much else, which is a shame because I know having the oven on would make a real temperature difference in my house…I’m fuh-reeeeezzing!

This week I’ve been:

  • drooling over these coconut lime cookies. I still have a bowl of limes to use, and I’m imagining some big white choc chunks in those babies…yum.
  • waiting patiently for strawberry season to start again, thinking of all the goodies I can make. We’re lucky enough to live within 30 minutes of at least 4 PYO strawberry farms (that I know of anyway!), and going to pick our own bucketful has become a lovely winter tradition for us. Here’s Oliver last August.

  • making this super easy Chicken Florentine Pasta for dinner last night. Predictably, the fussy one only ate the chicken, but otherwise it was a winner. I’m fast becoming a Pioneer Woman fan, can you tell?
  • reading this book which has been a revelation to me…review to come once I’ve made one of her recipes (it will not be the bear’s paw – that’s a promise).
  • Wishing I was going to the Noosa Food & Wine Festival which starts in a week just up the road from me – oh the food! the wine! the people! Far too expensive for me & with Mr. B. away, not going to happen with 3 little people.
  • Thinking that as a consolation, I can manage Paniyiri with 3 little people. Oh the haloumi! the baklava! the plate-smashing!
  • Watching a bit of the new Masterchef. I watched the first two seasons but pretty much ignored it last year – I’m very much over reality tv, and once I’d seen Junior Masterchef I was quite saddened to see the pressure those kids were under. None of it seemed very real to me. And the reality for me is that when it screens at 7pm, I’m trying to get kids to brush their teeth and skidaddle off to bed! I’ve caught a few snippets so far, and loved seeing all that fresh produce they picked up on the Mornington Penisula (oh those Mussels!), but I’m unsure if it will suck me in this year or not. I will admit to loving some of the cookbooks put out by former contestants (Kate Bracks’ The Sweet Life and Adam Liaw’s TwoAsian Kitchens are high on my cookbook wishlist – reviews to come!), and think it’s a great opportunity for those talented cooks out there, but I have to agree with whichever judge said the other night “Why not do an apprenticeship?”. I guess any chance at television fame is too appealing to pass up for some!
  • Planning Mother’s Day for this Sunday – do I do afternoon tea or lunch? Savoury or sweet? With Mr B. away and my kids still too young to organise much for me, I’m hoping to spoil my mum a little this Mother’s Day. She’ll just be returning from a SE Asian holiday and may still be jetlagged, so I want to take it easy on her…what to do, what to do? Going out is out, so we’ll do something nice here…hopefully!

Choc-Banana Ice-Cream Cake

A few days ago Alex celebrated his 9th birthday. We’ve stumbled upon a plan in our family that the kids get a big birthday party hoo-ha every second year, and on the alternate years we have a family dinner AND they get to choose the cake they want.

In past years the older kids have pored over my birthday cake books to choose things like blue dinosaurs or cupcakes ‘posies’.

This year when I asked Alex what kind of cake he wanted, there was no reaching for a cake book, no umming and ahhing, no hesitation whatsoever.

“A chocolate banana ice cream cake please”.

Okay mate, no worries. Such a specific request needs the utmost commitment and careful research, so I was on the case quick smart. Thanks to Mr Google I stumbled across this magnificent creation at Sweetapolita and decided to use it as my inspiration.

This cake had a chocolate biscuit base, a chocolate glaze, and two layers of banana ice cream with a brownie layer in the middle. Oh.Em.Gee. That’s a whole lotta chocolate and icecream for one little family dinner!

I modified it, spent quite a few hours on each step, and somehow got it all together in the end. It was actually quite an unattractive cake – but it’s all about what’s on the inside, right!

It’s quite a time consuming cake – there are lots of ‘waiting periods’ in between steps. I was in the kitchen making a ton of other things the day I made it so it didn’t bother me, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re pushed for time.

Choc-Banana Ice Cream Cake

Adapted from Sweetapolita‘s recipe here

Chocolate Crust

  • 115g butter
  • 220g dark chocolate
  • 380g chocolate cookie (eg Oreo) crumbs

Ice-Cream filling

  • 7 cups vanilla ice-cream (just under 2L)
  • 3 large frozen bananas

Glaze

  • 1/2 cup thickened cream
  • 1/4 cup liquid glucose
  • 170g dark chocolate
  1. Crust: Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, or in the microwave if you feel game. Stir until smooth.
  2. Whizz the biscuits in a food processor until they are reduced to fine crumbs, then gently mix them with the chocolate mixture until just combined. Put 1 cup aside for later. Press remaining crumbs onto base and sides of a round springform pan (mine is 23cm across & 6cm deep), and place in freezer until firm.
  3. Glaze: Melt cream and glucose in a small saucepan over medium heat until just bubbling, then add chopped chocolate and stir through until smooth. Allow to cool fr around 45 minutes.
  4. Ice-Cream filling: Wait for your ice-cream to soften slightly, then add to a large bowl. Allow frozen bananas to thaw on the bench for around 30 minutes, then process in food processor until smooth. Mix banana puree into ice-cream.
  5. Assembly: Spoon half of your ice-cream over the frozen crust and spread out evenly. Gently press your reserved crumb mixture over the ice-cream, then pour on the cup of cooled chocolate glaze. Level gently with a palette knife, then return to freezer for around an hour.
  6. Spread remaining ice-cream over glaze, then freeze again – for 4 hours at the least.
  7. Warm glaze gently over simmering water until slightly runny, then spread over top of ice-cream (I spread mine over the sides in lieu of the crumb crust, but this was difficult and didn’t look too pretty!).
  8. Sprinkle with decorations, then freeze overnight.
  9. When ready to serve, remove gently from springform pan then carefully transfer to serving plate. Use a large knife rinsed under hot water to slice.

Notes

  • This American recipe uses wafer biscuits for the crust…I’m only now realising that US wafer biscuits must differ from Aussie ones. The ones I bought were ‘Chocolte Cream Wafers’ and when mixed as directed, resulted in a thick and sludgy mixture quite unlike the biscuit crumb bases that I make for cheesecakes (which is what I’m assuming was required here!). There was no way my sludge was going to stick all the way up the sides of my springform pan, but I didn’t realise this until too late! I made the decision to use the entire mixture on the base and coat the sides with the glaze at the end. Not a good move – the base was very thick and although tasty, was just too overpowering. I would suggest using oreo cookies for the base to get the crumb consistency.
  • My springform pan has a slight incontinence problem, so I line it with baking paper to prevent leaks. Because I didn’t have a nice crumbed side, my ice-cream set straight into the folds of the baking paper leaving uneven surfaces. This made it even harder to frost – now I have a really good excuse to buy a new springform pan!
  • I omitted the brownie layer that featured in Sweetapolita’s cake, and just used a thin layer of chocolate crumb and then glaze instead. This gave a nice crunchy layer inside the ice-cream, but a soft brownie layer would have been nice too.
  • I had to put the chocolate glaze on over several sessions, freezing in between. I did this on a mild Autumn day, and still found melting was a problem – I wouldn’t attempt this on a QLD Summer day unless I had fantastic Air-Conditioning!

I was so glad this cake was all prepared the day before Alex’s birthday. It meant I could serve up dinner (Enchilada’s, as requested!), take it out of the freezer as we cleared the table, then it was ready for candles and singing.

There was some assistance needed with cutting – that centre layer slows you down, then you really need to put in some elbow grease when you get to the bottom crust – but once those slices hit the plates it was every man & child for themselves. Nom nom nom…

Banana ice-cream is amazing on it’s own…if I never bother doing this layered baby again, I will definitely be doing banana ice-cream in the future…a lot.

I tried to sway Alex into a caramel glaze…I was envisioning a banoffee pie flavour, and think the caramel would work fantastically with the banana…but he was adamant it had to be chocolate. He knows what he wants!