Category Archives: Recipe

How to Make Fruit Leather (Oven or Dehydrator)

Making Fruit Leather

Is it just me or is this a bumper year for strawberries? My accidental strawberry patch (it started as a potted plant then escaped to the gravel and has taken over) is producing way more than I could ever eat, freeze or smoothie-ify. Jam is an option, but I’ve been looking for something less sugary, yet equally non-perishable. Enter fruit leather!

First Strawberry Harvest

My fellow Americans know fruit leather as “fruit roll-ups”, which when purchased from the shop contains just as much sugar as that jam I’m trying to avoid. But if you start with real fruit, puree it and dry it yourself, you’ll find the fruit needs little sugar if any. The drying process super-concentrates the fruit sugars leaving you with a naturally sweet “leather” that tastes like pure fruit

Making Fruit Leather

Strawberries are perfect for this and since the elderflowers are in bloom, I thought I’d kick up my fruit leather with a little elder-injection. I also had some homemade apple puree in the freezer, the lingering remains from last year’s orchard crop, so I thawed that out, added some grated fresh ginger, and turned that into leather, too. The apple was by far my favourite – I added a LOT of ginger and I loved the spicy kick. But I must admit, the strawberry leather tastes like pure summer.

Really blown away by my strawberry crop. This has been my daily harvest the last three days with more are on the way!

These fruit leathers are perfect for the lunchbox or for taking on long hikes. In fact, “hiking” was my motivation for all this as I’m heading to the Lake District this weekend and am getting ready to hike the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in July. The fruit leather will be a welcome energy shot on the “rocky road” (and for a super energy shot – fruit leather rolled up with almond butter!).

Best of all, you can do this in the oven (no fancy dehydrator necessary).

How to Make Strawberry (or any other fruit) Leather

Making Fruit Leather

You can skip the elderflower in this but it does add that extra something. Try swapping it out with other flavour add-ins: orange zest, cinnamon, ginger… be creative! And feel free to sub the strawberries for any other fruit. You can do this in either an oven or a dehydrator; I’ve included instructions for both. If you live in a warm climate, you can also do this on a hot day by simply leaving the fruit to dry out in the sun!

Ingredients

  • 5 cups strawberries, stems removed and halved (or any other fruit)
  • 2 tablespoons honey (more or less to taste)
  • 3-4 clusters of elderflowers (optional)

Method (Oven)

  1. In a medium saucepan, on a low heat, cook the strawberries until they are soft and the juices are released.
  2. Tie up the elderflowers in a muslin or jelly bag and add to the juicy strawberries. Cover, leave to cool, then put in the refrigerator and leave overnight. (If you skip the elderflowers, there’s no need to leave the strawberries overnight – you can make your leather right away!)
  3. The next day, preheat oven to its lowest temperature setting.
  4. Remove the elderflower bundle and pour the berries into a blender. Add the honey and puree.
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  6. Pour the berry mixture onto parchment lined pan – it should be about 1/8 inch thick.
  7. Put in the oven and bake for 4-6 hours, until leather peels away easily from the parchment. Using scissors cut into rectangles and roll them up, parchment and all.

Method (Dehydrator)

  1. Follow the oven method through step 4.
  2. Spread the mixture out onto a dehydrator sheet to about 1/8 inch thickness.
  3. Dehydrate at 130 F / 50 C for four hours. Check the fruit leather periodically – when it peels away easily, peel it off, flip it over and dry for another hour or two.
  4. Remove from dehydrator and use scissors or a pizza roller to cut it into you desired shapes.

Making Fruit Leather

Coffee Ice Cream

Coffee Ice Cream

This coffee ice cream is cool because unlike most coffee ice cream recipes, this one uses whole bean coffee (rather than instant). And when you use good coffee, freshly roasted, the resulting ice cream flavour is rich, complex and infinitely variable. Different beans have different characteristics – fruity, acidic, chocolatey, citrusy and so on – and the resulting ice cream takes on these flavours and releases them in perfect deliciously cold creamy mouthfuls.

In this particular instance I used Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans from Rave Coffee. As a coffee, these beans produce subtle notes of damson and plums, which the careful taster may be able to pick up in their ice cream, as well. Best served with complimentary flavours – poached plums comes to mind, or how about plum crumble?

Another benefit to this recipe is it makes it easy to make decaffeinated coffee ice cream, simply by using decaf beans. The result may be less nuanced than with a fancy single estate bean, but honestly, who would mind?

Coffee Ice Cream

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups (375 ml) whole milk
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • 1.5 cups (125 g) coffee beans
  • pinch of salt
  • 1.5 cups (375 ml) double cream
  • 5 egg yolks

Method

  1. Heat the milk, sugar, coffee beans, salt and 1/2 cup (125 ml) of cream in a saucepan. Once warm (but not boiling), remove from heat, cover and let it steep for 1 hour or so.
  2. In one bowl, pour the remaining 1 cup (250ml) cream and set a strainer on top of it. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.
  3. Warm up the coffee-infused milk mixture and slowly pour it (beans and all) into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the mixture back into the saucepan.
  4. Warm the saucepan over median heat, stirring constantly with a spatula, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula (you’ve just made custard!). Pour this custard through the strainer into the bowl with the cream and stir.
  5. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator (I do this overnight) then freeze it in an ice cream maker (or use David Lebovitz’s technique for making ice cream without an ice cream maker).

 

This is my submittions into Kavey’s Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream, Inspired by Hot Drinks edition!

Nettle Farinata

Nettle farinata.

Farinata (also called socca, torta di ceci or cecina) is a chickpea flour flatbread akin to a pancake or crepe, and it’s been a favourite food of mine for years. I’ve written about Farinata before (and its Indian cousin, Besan Cheela) but I’ve recently been rediscovering farinata through my favourite Springtime forageable: stinging nettles.

For one thing, nettle farinata just looks cool (I was inspired by this picture of nettle focaccia taken by Eat Pictures). But the nettles also add nice texture to the farinata, thanks to their prickly hairs which are no longer stinging since the nettles have been cooked.

Of course, you don’t need to use nettles here – you can use any vegetable you’d like – veggie chef Rachel Demuth does hers with artichokes – and feel free to kick it up with herbs, spices, black pepper, chilli, whatever you feel. This is why I love farinata: it’s so adaptable. It’s also inherently vegan, gluten-free, rich in protein and fiber, and an all around good eat that goes well with so many things. My recipe below is also lower in fat than most other farinata recipes, which tend to include a lot of oil in the batter. When I make this, the only oil I use is for greasing the pan. To me, it’s perfect this way.

You can cook farinata til its crispy and use it as a pizza base, or keep it malleable and use it almost as a vegan omelet – delicious with sautéed mushrooms! If you really want to green up your farinata, you can blitz some of the nettles (or whatever greenery your using) with the batter.

Wild garlic farinata / socca / chickpea flour flatbread. #vegan #glutenfree

Nettle Farinata

1 cup chickpea flour
1 teaspoon salt
olive oil
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
a bunch of nettle leaves, washed

Method

  1. Combine the chickpea flour and salt in a blender with 1 cup of water. Blend until smooth then leave the batter to rest for 2-12 hours.
  2. Heat up the oven’s grill / broiler. Heat an oven-safe non-stick pan on medium high heat. Coat the pan with some olive oil (either using a spray bottle or by drizzling in some oil and wiping it around with a paper towel).
  3. When the pan is good and hot, pour in just enough batter to fill the pan, about the thickness of a crepe – you can go thicker but I find a thinner pancake results in a nicer result. Immediately scatter some onions over the batter, then, using tongs, place the nettle leaves on top of the batter.
  4. When the batter is firm on top and brown underneath, remove the pan from the heat and place under the grill / broiler (if you’d like, you can spray a thin coat of olive oil on top of the farinata before placing under the grill). Cook until it’s starting to brown on top (this shouldn’t take very long so keep an eye on it).
  5. Remove the farinata from the pan and repeat the steps above with the rest of the batter.
  6. Serve immediately. You can slice the farinata with a pizza cutter, but it’s also nice to just tear into it with your hands!

Here’s what it looks like with wild garlic, also nice but not as texturally interesting:

Wild garlic farinata (I still prefer the nettle version).

Nettle Pesto

Nettle Pesto

It finally seems like winter has left the building and spring is making itself known in the trees, in the hedgerows and underfoot. The grass is looking greener, buds are starting to appear on the elder shrubs and one of the first of the season’s finest forage-ables are coming into its own: the stinging nettle!

Young nettle leaves are already popping up all over my garden and now is the time to get in on their bounty: nettles are best when they’re young as older leaves tend to be woody and somewhat tough when cooked. But the young leaves, once boiled, are soft, delicate and hugely versatile.

Nettles

Nettle Soup is one of the more popular options. Rachel Demuth at Demuths Cookery School has been making Nettle Risotto and Nettle Fritters, Hank Shaw has been getting his pasta on with Nettle Ravioli and Strettine. My friend, Kanna, has even made Nettle Cordial.

The first thing I’ll be making with my nettles is something to go the distance: Nettle Pesto, a versatile condiment that’s great with pasta, as a soup garnish, on bread… basically anywhere you’d use conventional pesto. And the recipe is completely open to variation. My recipe is a vegan pesto, using no cheese (the toasted nuts give it plenty of richness), but you’re free to add parmesan, pecorino or any other hard cheese as you see fit. You can also play around with the nuts – I love walnuts but hazelnuts, pine nuts, cashews or a mix are also terrific with this.

You can also combine the nettles with other herbs like parsley, basil or wild garlic (more foraging!) to make a mixed green pesto.

As to picking nettles, remember, they sting so use gloves and a carrier bag. Blanching the nettles gets rid of their stinginess so until you’ve blanched them, keep those gloves handy!

Nettle Pesto

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of nettles
  • 100g walnuts, toasted
  • 1 garlic clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • About 150ml good olive oil
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. First, prepare the nettles. Wash the nettles then drop them in a large pot of boiling water for 3 minutes. With tongs or a slotted spoon, remove the nettles and place immediately into a bowl of ice water to shock and cool.
  2. Squeeze out as much liquid from the nettles as you can (they will no longer be stinging!) then roughly chop.
  3. Put the walnuts and garlic into a food processor and process until finely chopped – but still with some granular texture.
  4. Add the nettles and blitz again to chop the leaves, then begin trickling in the oil, while the processor runs. Stop when you have a sloppy purée.
  5. Taste, season as necessary with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
  6. Store in the fridge – if you completely cover the surface of the pesto with oil so all air is excluded, it should keep for a couple of weeks.

This post also appeared on Great British Chefs.

Grapefruit, Beet and Chilli Juice

Grapefruit, Beet & Chilli Juice

This is a new juicy creation I just had to share. It’s all about the tart grapefruit and spicy hot jalapeno chilli (be brave, folks). The juice is almost creamy and the concentrated flavour saturates your mouth – it’s incredibly satisfying, a breakfast in itself. The jalapeno is as good a wake-up call as coffee (really!) – you can use other chillies, red or green, to suit what’s available.

Consequentially, this juice is also great for hangovers.

Grapefruit and chilli super juice

Grapefruit, Beetroot and Chilli Juice

Serves 1

  • 1 grapefruit, peeled
  • 1 apple
  • 1in slice of beetroot
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1/2 lime, peeled
  • 1/2 zucchini (or cucumber)
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1/2 jalapeno (or more depending on your taste and the spiciness of your chillis)

Put the lot through your juicer, pour into a glass (over ice if you like), and enjoy!

My favourite thing to juice at the moment.

Raw Cauliflower Tabbouleh

Raw Cauliflower Tabbouleh

Last year while visiting Cornwall with my mother we had the fortune of staying at Lanyon, a perfect countryside hideaway comprising three cottages surrounded by fields and farmland (and also home to my good friend, Marie Leggo). The farmland is owned by the Leggos but leased to local farmers, and one of those farmers had chosen to fill his ample acreage with rows and rows of cauliflower. It just so happened that when Mom and I arrived at Lanyon last year, it was just after the cauliflower harvest, and Marie took us out to the fields to glean any cauliflower that was left behind.

Cauliflower gleaning

The cauliflower gleaning was hugely exciting to Mom and I – not only are we both fascinated by “gleaning” (we bonded over the film The Gleaners and I, but we are also both cauliflower fanatics). And when we saw the bounty of cauliflower that remained in the field, we were over the moon in cauliflower bliss, but also shocked by how much perfectly good cauliflower gets left behind. We took as much as we could, resorting to some clever means to do so, but still, there was way more cauliflower than we could ever carry or consume.

Cauliflower gleaning

As we walked back to the house, arms laden, we bantered about all of the possibilities and started scheming more creative uses for cauliflower. One of the things I’ve been toying with a lot lately is using cauliflower as a grain substitute. If you put cauliflower in a food processor and chop it super finely, cauliflower takes on the size and shape of grains and looks much like rice, couscous or bulgar wheat. And you can use it in similar ways, for example, cauliflower fried “rice” or cauliflower “couscous”. On that particular day at Lanyon I attempted a cauliflower “rice” pudding which was probably pushing the whole concept a little too far. However, stick with the savoury options and cauliflower grains, be they raw or cooked, are a pretty safe bet.

Cauliflower gleaning

My favourite cauilflower-as-grain option is this cauliflower tabbouleh which is inherently raw, vegan and gluten-free. I like to serve this with falafel and hummus, or wrapped up in little gem lettuce leaves. You can adapt it as you see fit – add some roast or grilled veggies, sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, mix in some chickpeas or add a drizzle of tahini sauce. And while it’s most satisfying when made with reject cauliflower you’ve gleaned yourself from a farm, it’s just as good with store-bought cauliflower which is one of the most readily available, nutritious and frugal vegetables out there.

Raw Cauliflower Tabbouleh

Raw Cauliflower Tabbouleh

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cauliflower, stalk removed
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 big handful of parsley and mint, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red pepper, finely diced
  • 1/2 cucumber, finely diced
  • 1 tomato, finely diced
  • pinch of salt and pepper

Method

  1. Put the cauliflower florets into a food processor and blitz it until it reaches a couscous-like texture.
  2. Combine cauliflower with the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Season well, adding more lemon, salt and pepper to taste.

EXTRA VEG ALERT: I am sending this recipe to Helen at Fuss Free Flavours for the Extra Veg challenge that she hosts with Michelle from Utterly Scrummy.

This recipe also appears on Great British Chefs.

Minty Pea and Pepper Frittata

Minty Pea & Pepper Frittata

There was a long period in my life when I lived on omelets and frittatas. It was the mid-2000′s and I had just moved back to Austin and was cooking for myself most nights. It was around this time that I also decided that I needed to seriously change the way I ate. Prior to this I had been a “cheese and bread” vegetarian, and it showed. So when I started looking for healthy delicious easy alternatives to my usual quesadillas and veggie burgers, the frittata became my go-to.

Minty Pea & Pepper Frittata

Frittatas are really perfect if you’re cooking solo, and you can easily scale it up if you’ve got friends around. You can cram them full of delicious vegetables and the options are boundless.

I’m not as excessively reliant on frittatas as I once was, but I still go back to them from time to time and this pea and pepper frittata is one I stumbled upon the other day. Peas are a frittata’s best friend because it’s the kind of food you almost always have in the freezer which makes the frittata process as simple as whisking a few eggs and sprinkling on some peas. If you have a little extra time, add some chopped mint and sauteed bell peppers, and the end result is something full of colour, fresh flavour and lots of protein.

Peas

I don’t always add the feta; sometimes I go for parmesan, or a sprinkle of pine nuts. Like I said: versatile.

Minty Pea & Pepper Frittata

Minty Pea and Pepper Frittata

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup peas
  • 1 cup of red, yellow and orange bell peppers, diced
  • a small handful of mint, chopped
  • 1/2 cup cubed feta
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Turn on your oven’s grill.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs.
  3. Meanwhile, heat an oven-safe pan on medium heat. Add the bell peppers and cook for a few minutes, until they start to soften but are still crisp.
  4. Add the peas – if frozen, cook them for a bit in the pan until they thaw. Stir in the mint.
  5. Add the eggs and swirl them around the pan so you get an even layer of eggs over the vegetables. Add the feta, either as whole cubes or crumbled. Cook until the eggs start bubbling on top.
  6. Take your pan off the hob and put it under the grill for a minute or two, until the top is puffy and golden.

This post also appeared on Great British Chefs.

Making Marmalade

Marmalade

This week I’ve taken on a new preserving interest: marmalade! What brought this on was not the imminent end of Seville Orange season, but rather the discovery of a new fruit: the Bergamot orange!

The Organic Farm Shop in Cirencester has been stocking Bergamots the last few weeks. I’d never seen or heard of them before, but on a recent visit to the shop, while waiting in the check-out line with my shopping, I heard the woman in front of me talking excitedly about the contents of her brown paper bag: “I’ve heard of people using them in gin and tonics, but I think they’ll make an excellent hot tea!”

Naturally, the mention of “gin and tonic” got my attention, so I asked her what she was talking about and she kindly revealed the contents of her bag – a bundle of little “Bergamots”, something I’d never seen before. So I decided to get a few and find out what the fuss was all about. Indeed they do make great tea, and are wonderful juiced in smoothies (I surprisingly haven’t tried the gin and tonics yet).

Bergamot mania at breakfast this morning: Earl Grey tea and fresh #juice featuring Bergamot & ginger.

Knowing that my access to Bergamots (and organic ones at that!) would be short lived, I wanted to do something to preserve the bounty. My friend Kavey picked some up last weekend and preserved them in syrup following her same recipe for candied clementines. I decided to use the opportunity to finally have a go at making marmalade, one of my favourite preserves and something I find far more versatile than jams (case in point: buckwheat crepes with marmalade and toasted flaked almonds – superb!).

I read up on marmalade and was immediately intimidated by the numerous steps involved. Peeling, blanching, soaking, slicing, boiling, de-seeding and wrapping things in muslin. Different people seem to have different methods, and as I read, my brain became a fog, so much so that I could no longer differentiate between pith, pulp and peel.

Fortunately I found a couple of recipes that helped simplify it all for me.

Making marmalade

First was David Lebovitz’s Bergamot Marmalade recipe which I followed almost exactly. I was about 100g short of sugar which meant it took longer to set but the result was still freakin’ delicious and achieved my hopes of encapsulating that Bergamot goodness in a long-lasting form. Since making this, I’m finding as many excuses as possible to use it. Turns out marmalade is an excellent addition to Chinese stir-fry. (See what I mean about marmalade’s versatility?)

Marmalade

I was so excited by the success of my Bergamot marmalade that I decided to do it all over again with grapefruit and lemons. I had a hunch that grapefruit would require some special treatment, being so thick-skinned and pithy, so I went back to my marmalade recipe research and found Pam Corbin’s whole fruit method for making marmalade in The River Cottage Preserves Handbook (the recipe uses Seville oranges but you can adapt it for other fruits). The recipe involves boiling the whole fruit to soften the skin, then halving and de-seeding the fruit before slicing it into strips. Again, for this marmalade newbie, I appreciated finding a recipe that was crystal clear about every step (and didn’t require me tying anything in muslin).

(I know I’m being a whiney pants about the muslin thing and I’m sure if I saw someone do it I’d feel silly for ever being so intimidated. But at the same time, this marmalade making is unfamiliar territory to me, and the more a recipe requires me to do additional Google research to follow it, the less likely I am to actually make the recipe!)

While the grapefruit marmalade was boiling away, I gave it a taste and thought it was a little TOO bitter. Some sort of divine intervention from the marmalade gods took over (or was it subconscious remembrance of the Hawkshead relish company) and I decided to add some ginger. Marmalade transformed!

Marmalade

Some other marmalades I’d like to try:

 

Raw Raspberry Cheesecake

Raw Raspberry Cheesecake

Chicago has a few raw food restaurants dotting the city and suburbs and one of the most highly-rated and longest-standing is Borrowed Earth Cafe, which happens to be just a short walk from my parent’s house in Downers Grove. Raw food may not be the most obvious choice for lunch on a sub-zero, snow-laden Chicago winter afternoon, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a raw food fix while I was visiting last January. And I had the best company: my mom and my friend, Jim, both veggies and who I knew would appreciate an elaborate lunch of raw recreations of some of our favourite foods such as lasagne, pierogi, gyros and tortilla soup. Each dish was a work of art in itself and given all of the sprouting, dehydrating, chopping, blending and juicing that went into out meal, we were looking at hours and days of work behind each and every dish.

Borrowed Earth Cafe Lunch

At some point during our meal, I commented that if anyone was going to go 100% raw, and really do it like they mean it (as Borrowed Earth owners Kathy and Danny do), then they might as well open a cafe because there’s no sense in putting that much time into a dish that’s only going to serve one or two people. So kudos to Kathy and Danny for bringing raw food to the masses, especially those super elaborate dishes that require tools that most of us mere mortals don’t have (dehydrator, sprouter, Vitamix, copious amounts of time and patience, etc).

Raw Food Lunch at Borrowed Earch Cafe

Fortunately, as Kathy and Danny teach on their raw food workshops, not all raw delights require fancy tools and excessive amounts of time. Raw desserts are particularly “easy”. During that aforementioned lunch, we finished with a raw raspberry “cheesecake” that put conventional dairy-based cheesecakes to shame. Raw or not, this was an amazing desert, and I’m very grateful to Kathy for sharing the recipe with me today. You will need a blender and a food processor, and a cheesecake pan, but all of the ingredients are readily available and the result make it totally the worth the effort. This is a wow-and-amaze-your-guests sort of dessert, so be prepared to share and don’t expect any leftovers (but if you do have leftovers, it keeps nicely in the fridge for about a week, and it freezes well, too).

Raw Raspberry Cheesecake

Raw Raspberry Cheesecake

Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups walnuts
  • 1/2 cup Medjool Dates, pitted
  • 1/3 cup dried coconut flakes

Filling:

  • 3 cups cashews that have been soaked in water at least 3 hours.
  • 3/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 3/4 cup agave nectar, coconut nectar or honey
  • 3/4 cup of coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup fresh raspberries

Topping:

  • 2 cups of fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 3/4 cup Medjool Dates, pitted

Tools:

  • 8″ or 9″ springform cheesecake pan
  • food processor
  • blender

Method

  1. First make the crust: Place the walnuts in your food processor and, using the S-blade, grind or pulse until the nuts are ground down to a medium texture. Add Medjool Dates and the coconut flakes and process again until a dough-like texture forms. Place the “dough” into your cheesecake pan and and spread out on the bottom of the pan. Press firmly and use a small offset spatula to get an even surface.
  2. Make the filling: Put all of the above filling ingredients into your high speed blender and blend until smooth and creamy. If you are not using a Vitamix or Blentec or other high speed blender, you might want to divide the filling in half and do half at a time so your blender can handle the consistency.
  3. Pour the filling into your cheesecake pan. (If you have some extra raspberries you can stir those into the cheesecake and place the cheesecake in the freezer for several hours until firm or overnight.)
  4. Make the topping: when the cheesecake is frozen, remove from the freezer and springform pan and place on cake plate.
  5. Put topping ingredients into your food processor and process until well blended. “Frost” the top of your cheesecake with the filling. You can top extra raspberries or coconut flakes on top if you like.

BONUS: Check it out, the “crust” recipe can also be used to make cookies. Just use the same recipe and roll quickly between the palms of your hands to make 1/2 golf ball-sized balls (or, go crazy, the size of the WHOLE golf ball). You can leave them round or press them flat and chill and serve.

You should get 8 slices out of the cheescake and it will keep for about a week in the refrigerator, or you can put it back in the freezer for longer life.

Tiramisu Jelly

Tiramisu Jello

I’ve recently been a little obsessed with gelatinising things, that is, with making edible liquids (juice, coffee, et cetera) gelatinous or jelly-like. But first, a cultural lesson to help bridge the US / UK divide that separates me and many of my readers:

In the USA, the category of edible gelatinised substances typically falls under the name “jello” (see JELL-O, lo the power of branding), whereas the word “jelly” is reserved for clear, fruity preserves meant for spreading on toast. In the UK, “jelly” also describes such toast-friendly substances, but it can also mean a set liquid, what we Americans call “jello”. This caused me great confusion when I first moved to the UK, searching hopelessly for UK “jello” recipes. But when I discovered this incredible double meaning of the world “jelly”, my whole world opened up to me.

(FYI: I will not get into “spermicidal jelly” in this post).

The jelly obsession has emerged over the last couple years as I’ve continuously failed to transplant my family Thanksgiving recipe for “Auntie Jo’s Cranberry Jello Mold” to the UK. The recipe relies heavily on “red” JELL-O, not readily available in this country. I tried making something up using gelatine, which I didn’t feel good about knowing that gelatine is not vegetarian. (In the process, which involves a can of crushed pineapple, I also learned that fresh pineapple will undo the effects of gelatine – blasted bromelain!).

Tiramisu Jelly

So what started as a quest for my family’s cranberry “jelly”, has evolved into a mission for vegetarian gelatinising agents, and also “jellied” creations that are free of crap (like JELL-O).

I have been experimenting and have so far had my greatest success with agar agar, a substance made from algae, discovered in 1658 by Minora Tanzaemon in Japan, and hence very popular in Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine. Agar agar is great because it sets very quickly and doesn’t need to be refrigerated to do so. Plus, it’s all natural and totally vegan. I think we have a winner!

My favourite agar agar creation so far is this Tiramisu Jelly, which I made three times (!!!) while in Chicago over the holidays. It was that good, and surprisingly easy. I used the agar agar to set coffee which had been poured over ladyfinger biscuits, then topped with a cream cheese frosting spiked with brandy (the “proper” way is with marscapone and Italian marsala wine, but this is much more frugal).

This was much easier than making traditional tiramisu (which I did last year over Christmas, a process which seemed to take days to complete, but man it was good). And I really enjoyed the mouthfeel of jellied biscuits – I suppose you Brits may call this a tiramisu trifle! The tiramisu jelly also slices up nicely for fun little party poppers, which we enjoyed on New Years Eve, topped with pop rocks!

Tiramisu Jello

Consequentially, I’m posting this today because I’m currently in Cambridge for a weekend of hunkering and geeking with friends (sort of a Thanksgeeking redux) and the question of “what are you going to gelatinise this weekend?” came up. I haven’t answered that question yet, but having mastered the tiramisu, the pesky pineapple – my nemesis – comes to mind. Stay tuned!

5.0 from 2 reviews

Tiramisu Jelly
Recipe type: Dessert
 

You can use whatever you want to set the jelly in, preferably a small square or rectangular pan. Even a bread pan would work. The bigger the pan, the shallower the jelly will be. I tend to err for a smaller pan and add as much liquid as needed to cover the biscuits, then set any leftover liquid in a cup for a little jelly bonus snack for the chef!
Ingredients
  • 2 cups strong coffee (I made this with instant espresso)
  • 2.5 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp agar agar
  • ladyfingers (the number you need depends on the size of your pan, but one standard package should give you plenty and leave you with more to spare)
  • 500ml whipping cream (whipped to soft peaks)
  • 8oz cream cheese
  • 75ml brandy
  • 5 tbsp sugar
  • cocoa powder for dusting
  • popping candy (optional)

Instructions
  1. Arrange the ladyfingers in a “small” square or rectangular pan.
  2. Combine the coffee, sugar and agar agar in a pan and simmer for a few minutes until the agar agar and sugar are dissolved.
  3. Pour the liquid over the ladyfingers, adding enough to cover the lady fingers – you may need to push the ladyfingers down into the liquid to get them to absorb and settle. I usually add enough liquid so that there’s a few millimetres of liquid above the biscuits, but you can add more liquid if you’d like a thicker jelly layer.
  4. While the jelly sets (which won’t take long – agar agar sets wonderfully quickly and it doesn’t need to be refrigerated).
  5. Meanwhile, mix the whipped cream with the cream cheese, brandy and sugar.
  6. When the jelly is set, smear the whipped cream over the top and top with a dusting of cocoa powder
  7. Serve the jelly in slices, sprinkled with popping candy if you’d like for a fun surprise effect.