Now that Spring is upon us we’re looking for something lighter and cooler. Vietnamese-style noodle salads like this one deliver on both counts – yet are full of flavour and won’t weigh you down. We like this for lunch on a weekend or a light dinner when we’ve over-indulged a tad.

This noodle salad uses little pork patties – which you can quickly and easily put together in the morning and set aside in the fridge until you’re ready to cook. But you can also use shredded poached or barbecued chicken – it’s a great use of leftovers – or lemongrass-marinated beef. If you’re making the latter, slice about 400g beef into strips and marinade for 30mins in a paste made of 1 lemongrass stalk, 3 cloves garlic smashed or chopped finely, a teaspoon each of fish sauce and caster sugar.

Vietnamese Salad Dressing

What you need

  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 long red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped*

What you do with it

  • Put the water, fish sauce, sugar and vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn it down and let it simmer for a couple of minutes to dissolve the sugar.
  • Stir through the lime juice, garlic and chilli.

*A note on the chilli – we like things spicy so tend to leave some seeds in or include all or half of a small Thai style chilli as well. Your call.

The Pork Patties

What you need

  • 500g pork mince
  • 1 garlic clove – crushed, finely diced
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 1/4 cup green shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

What you do with it

Mix it all together…preferably with your hands. I like to also pick up small amounts and slam it back into the side of the bowl. I have no idea what it does but it does help the mix become quite pliable and sticky.

With wet hands roll into 16 small balls and gently pat to flatten.

Cook in a pan over your burner or on a barbecue. They should take about 3 minutes each side.

The Herb Noodle Salad

What you need

200g rice vermicelli noodles

1 bunch fresh mint, leaves picked

1 bunch fresh coriander, leaves picked

1/2 cup fresh bean sprouts

We also use basil or Thai basil or Vietnamese mint – depending on what’s available – and assorted salad leaves. I don’t like bean sprouts but apparently, everyone else does so while they won’t appear in my salad, they might show up in yours.

What you do with it

Place the vermicelli in a heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water and stand for 2 minutes or until tender. Drain well.

Arrange all your leaves onto a platter with the noodles, top with the patties and pass around the dressing.

Bun Cha

It’s been an up and down week in the kitchen.

We had friends up from Brisbane for lunch last Sunday. It was one of those fabulously blue early Spring days that South East Queensland does so well. The sort of day that calls for lamb on the barbecue and a heap of salads. We did my current favourite French-style potato salad – roasted kipfler potatoes with some blanched green beans and this dressing. Of course, you don’t need to use kipflers, but I like the shape and the way they roast.

We also prepared a beetroot salad with feta, shredded beetroot leaves.  I wrap the beetroot tightly in foil with a couple of bruised garlic cloves and pop it in the oven (about 180C) for about an hour. When they’re cool enough to handle – with gloves, of course – the skin slides off. Be careful – these have a habit of jumping off the board and attacking white clothing.

The beets are chopped into chunks, tossed with some shredded leaves served with a really simple olive oil and lemon dressing – the juice of a lemon, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and the juices from the alfoil parcel.

For dessert, we served the orange and cardamon cake I told you about the other day – my husband’s favourite.

I finally got around to making that instant ice-cream I told you about the other week. Using some of the berries we had in the freezer – a mix of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries – I blitzed up this instant ice-cream that I heard about on a Gary Mehigan podcast. It’s 500g frozen berries, 1/2 cup icing sugar, 1 egg white all in the blender and blitzed. It comes out like soft serve.

During the week I’m experimenting a bit with the flavours we enjoyed in Vietnam – those really healthy and tasty salads. During the week we had a bun cha – little pork patties with vermicelli noodles, a herb salad and a fragrant dipping sauce. The picture is above, but I haven’t yet blogged the recipe. Watch this space.

I had a colleague from Sydney up for the week to work on a project for the day job. A sustained effort like that meant a lunch break preparing a pho stock from scratch – and a dinner with the works and leftovers the next day.

The Thai, or Holy, Basil is really going well in the backyard, so we used this as well as ordinary basil in our accompaniment plate. The stock was so incredibly fragrant that we just ate – without words.

On Friday we escaped at lunchtime and drove the 15 minutes or so to the beach – picking up some Mooloolaba prawns and soft bread rolls on the way. They truly are the best prawns you’ll ever taste #notbiasedatall. Then we ate them with this view. Yep, it was a pretty fabulous lunch. Blue skies, prawns, ocean views and migrating whales – perfect.

As I type this round-up, hubby is stirring a mushroom risotto made from mushrooms we bought at the Farmer’s Market this morning. We’ll serve it with spring-fresh asparagus and roasted chicken thighs. In the fridge are the passionfruit and vanilla pannacotta I made earlier.

Bon appetit…

Sunrise is now well before 6am and Spring is definitely in the air. On my walk this morning I watched some whales breaching not far off the Headland. They’re on their way back down to Antarctica, but seeing them is always a sign that the weather is warming up.

I’ve been buying bags of passionfruit at the markets to have with my yoghurt, strawberries and a handful of nutty granola for brekky. It’s all local, all fresh, all good.

I took an entire bag of passionfruit and turned them into curd. This turned out so well that I’m considering replacing the lemon curd on my Christmas pavlova with this instead. As an aside, if you need the recipe for the lemon curd pav, you’ll find it in Simply Nigella or here on Nigella’s site.

We also spooned it into little pastry cases for a simple dessert and topped it with some sliced strawberry. I could, of course, have used the leftover egg whites for a quick meringue, but I was too lazy. Hubby and daughter spread ita onto fresh baguette with fake spray can cream. They were in heaven, but I’m still wondering who brought that canned fake cream into the house. It certainly wasn’t me.

Anyways, if you want the recipe, you’ll also find it in Nigella’s Feast book or here. Apparently, it freezes ok, but I haven’t tried that yet.

I’m not really sure whether this is a terrine or a pannacotta, but I don’t really think the name makes a huge amount of difference for our purposes. Although according to wikipedia – so it must be true – a pannacotta is an Italian “dessert of sweetened cream thickened with gelatine and moulded.” This has sweetened cream, gelatine, and is moulded. Tick, tick and tick.

Anyways, thanks to the yoghurt it’s not as heavy as a pannacotta normally is, and thanks to the vanilla and lime rind, it’s also not as sweet.

This recipe makes 6 small pannacotta. What you can do is double the recipe and pour it into a (cling film lined) larger container (like a loaf tin or a small ice cream container?) and scoop it out instead.

What you need…

  • 300ml cream. I get ours from the markets – it’s local, and it’s good.
  • ¼ cup sugar. If you have a real sweet tooth you can add more, but this amount is, I think, fine.
  • 2 – 3 strips of lime peel. Cut this with a vegetable peeler so you have no pith
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence – or a vanilla bean if you have any in the pantry
  • 2 sheets gelatine – I used titanium strength. If you’re using sachets, 1 sachet should do it.
  • 300ml greek style full-fat unsweetened yoghurt
  • 1 – 2 tbsp passionfruit juice (no pulp)
  • Extra passionfruit pulp to serve

    What you do with it…

  • Heat the cream, lime rind, vanilla and sugar in a small pan. Bring it just to a simmer, take out the lime rind, and remove it from heat.
  • Soften the gelatine sheets in cold water for a few minutes until they’re all squidgy. Squeeze out all the excess water and stir into the hot cream. Whisk in the yoghurt, passionfruit juice and lime juice until it’s smooth. If you’re using powdered gelatine, mix it into the lime juice and then dissolve in the hot cream before you add the yoghurt and passionfruit juice.
  • If you’re using individual molds, line these with cling film. I find this a real palaver in that it leaves little marks on the pannacotta from where the plastic is uneven. You can pour it straight into the cold and hope you can get it out in one piece without resorting to hot water and potentially melting it – I’ll leave that choice with you.
  • Serve with passionfruit pulp.

 

We’re having friends over for lunch today. When I announced that I was going to bake the orange and almond cake, my hubby said, ‘don’t you mean the orange and cardamon?’ ‘No,’ I replied, ‘the orange and almond.’ ‘I’m sure you said orange and cardamon.’ So I’m baking the orange and cardamon.

This is my husband’s favourite cake. And no wonder really – it’s intensely orange, moist and delightfully soft. The cardamom adds a touch of the exotics and the Cointreau and cinnamon in the syrup elevate it into something worthy of lunch with friends.

The recipe comes from Greg and Lucy Malouf’s wonderful book, Moorish- Flavours from Mecca to Marrakech. It’s super easy, super tasty, and tastes a lot more special than it looks.

What you need:

  • 130g soft unsalted butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, free range from happy clucking chooks, of course
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, finely ground and sieved. You can use pre-ground in need I guess…
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 200ml sour cream

For the syrup:

  • Juice of 1 orange
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 3 tablespoons Cointreau
  • 3 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 6 cardamon pods, cracked
  • 1 cinnamon stick

What you do with it:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 170C
  • Cream the butter and sugar
  • Add the vanilla and zest and mix in
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time
  • Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom together
  • With the mixer on low speed, add the flour alternately with the sour cream
  • Slap it into a tin (23cm springform cake tin) that you’ve had the forethought to grease and line in the usual way.
  • Bake for 50-60 mins- until a skewer comes out clean
  • Use the cake cooking time to prepare the syrup, ie bung the ingredients together into a saucepan and simmer gently for a few minutes. Strain.
  • When the cake is done, pierce it all over with the skewer and pour over the syrup evenly.
  • Leave it to cool completely in the tin.
  • Dust with icing sugar and serve with dollops of double cream.

Over at the Hungry Writer, I’ve been posting about my travels through France earlier this year. If you’re interested, you can find the collection of posts here.

One of the highlights in three weeks of many highlights was a few days in Lyon. Lyon has an amazing food tradition that is partly the result of the silk trade in the city. This dish is named after the silk workers and translates loosely to silk workers brains – meaning that it’s soft. It was, perhaps, an indication of the dubious esteem that the silk workers were held in by the more affluent in society.

In any case, the silk workers would start work at stupid o’clock and by mid-morning would be needing a snack. This snack was known as machons (there’s a little upside-down v over the a) and consisted of something like this, probably some charcuterie, and red wine taken at a Bouchon. And yes, they’d be back for lunch.

We had this herb-flecked cheese dip served over boiled potatoes in Lyon, like in the photo below, but it’s also good on baked potatoes or slices of toasted baguette.

If you want to be really authentic have it with a glass of red wine or, better still, a communard – a Lyonnaise classic – red wine with blackcurrant liqueur (creme de cassis).

What you need

  • 250g cottage cheese or quark. Choose the full-fat version.
  • 50ml creme fraiche. You can also use non-sweetened greek style yoghurt if you like.
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp chives, finely sliced
  • 2 tbsp continental parsley, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

To serve: boiled peeled baby potatoes or potatoes baked in their skin, or sliced and toasted baguette

What you do with it

  • Place the cottage cheese and creme fraiche in a bowl and mix together.
  • Whisk in the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper
  • Stir through the shallot, chives and parsley.
  • Cover with cling film and pop it in the fridge for an hour

 

 

 

 

Cooking mushrooms for the focaccia

It’s that time of the year where everything seems a little warmer and a little bluer. Officially it’s Spring, but here in South-East Queensland spring tends to be a fleeting transition into summer.

As the sun comes out, so do the healthy intentions. We got off to a flying start with a Thai Beef Salad Bowl on Monday night, totally fell off the wagon at  Jimmy’s single ingredient dinner on Tuesday night – you can read about that here – and made friends again with salad on Wednesday night.

Thursday night’s chicken, prawn and mushroom tom yum soup was a highlight in the kitchen. It started as an idea from an Annabel Langbein cookbook – Free Range In The City – and sort of morphed into something else. It certainly fitted the bill in both taste and nutrition. After that? Well, it was pretty much all downhill. There is, however, always tomorrow.

The markets

Strawberries are still super cheap and when bought from the markets, picked yesterday. As were the passionfruit and the mushrooms.

I’ve been eating the strawberries in my morning yoghurt again and had every intention of making this instant ice-cream that I had heard at the end of a Gary Mehigan podcast during the week. Have you listened to it? The podcast is A Plate To Call Home and at the end of each interview, he spends a couple of minutes on tips and tricks – that sort of thing. Anyways, after the Janine Ellis interview – she’s the one who started Boost juice – he talked about an instant berry ice cream. You take 500g frozen berries, 1/2 cup icing sugar and one egg white and blitz it in a blender. It sounds super easy, doesn’t it? Anyways, the berries are in the freezer so maybe I’ll get around to it next week.

What I did make with the raspberries and passionfruit that I bought at the markets was Nigella’s passionfruit and white chocolate mousse. The raspberries are at the bottom of the glass and the mousse spooned over the top. It’s one of those ones where the eggs aren’t cooked – so you can’t feed it to kids, pregnant people or anyone with a weakened immune system – but the passionfruit takes away some of the cloying sweetness you’d expect from the white chocolate. The recipe is in Nigella’s Summer book, but it’s also online here.

The Seafood Smokery Bundaberg was back at the markets this week and we bought some more of their fabulous macadamia smoked fish pate. Wonton wrappers make fabulous canape carriers and feel more than a tad retro. Just pop a wonton wrapper into a cupcake tin and pop it in a 180C oven for 10-12 minutes and fill with whatever – in this case, avocado (also in season at the moment) and a teaspoon of the fish pate. We also had some with smoked mullet. If you want to know more about the Seafood Smokery Bundaberg, their Facebook page is here.

 

The mushrooms I bought went on top of a focaccia. You can find the recipe for that one here. The focaccia itself was used to dunk into the garlicky sauce of an Italian style seafood stew on Saturday night. Yum.

Cheese Rolls

I’ve been dying to try a cheese roll recipe out for some time, so made some up to take on an impromptu lunchtime barbecue. They looked as they should and the centre oozed as it should, but I want to tweak the recipe a little before I post it here. The view and the sausages were, however, pretty fabulous.

Noosa Beach House

We tend not to venture to Noosa too often. Parking is a nightmare at the best of times. It was, however, Father’s Day and Peter Kuravita’s Beach House 5 pot curry was calling.

At $40pp this is probably the best value you can get in Noosa – and the curries are interesting and fabulous.

The beetroot curry was declared to be the unanimous favourite. I found the recipe online here and think I might have a go at making it. I’ll let you know how I go.

After lunch, we wandered across the road so Miss T could pick up a hokey pokey icecream at Happy Pops

and then checked out Noosa Main Beach which was, as always, busy.

I’m still full from lunch so suspect that it will be veggie soup from the freezer for dinner tonight!

There’s a cafe slash giftshop slash whatever about 5kms north of Stanthorpe on the highway. Vincenzo’s I think it’s called… well, something like that. Although Warwick is the next reasonable sized town and isn’t too far away, we’ve never liked to stop there – mainly because the choice is Maccas or Maccas. After Warwick, you’ve really only got Aratula – at the foot of Cunningham’s Gap – before you hit Ipswich and the nightmare run through Brisbane and onto the Bruce Highway.

Anyways, we stopped at Vincenzo’s as we always do only to find that it’s closed and the landlord has put one of those lockout signs on the door. That’s when we noticed the converted church next door. Although the sign said it was a winery – the wine industry is a happening thing in the granite belt – there was also a coffee shop inside. And, wonder of all wonders, hubby declared the coffee to be good (I had black tea).

They also served an amazing orange and almond cake – one of those cakes that tastes like it’s had syrup drizzled all through it, but hasn’t really. I sent the owner a message on Instagram to see if I could have the recipe but received no reply so you’ll need to make do with my version – which is pretty good if I do say so myself. It’s also super easy. While the oranges are doing their thing, you can be doing yours. After that, it’s really just a bit of whizzing in the food processor and a little light whisking. No trouble at all.

What you need

  • 2 large oranges or 3 smaller ones – you need about 375g worth of pulp
  • 1 cinnamon stick and a couple of cloves (optional)
  • 6 eggs
  • 225g sugar
  • 250g almond meal/ ground almonds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

What you do with it

  • Pop the oranges, the cloves and the cinnamon stick (if you’re using it) in a saucepan and fill with cold water. I pop a plate over the top to keep the oranges submerged. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 hours or until soft. You might need to top the water up from time to time.
  • Drain the oranges and allow to cool. Cut in half and remove any pips then blitz them in a processor – skins and all.
  • Preheat the oven to 190C and grease and line a springform pan – if you need measurements, the tin should be about 21cm.
  • Beat the eggs and then add the sugar and mix well. Leave for a couple of minutes to let the sugar dissolve into the eggy mix. Add the almonds and baking powder and stir through. Finally, add the oranges.
  • Pour the mix into your prepared tin and pop it into the oven for about an hour – but check it after 45 minutes. You might need to place some alfoil over the top if it’s browning too quickly. It’s cooked when a skewer comes out clean.
  • Let it cool in the tin before turning out.

I poshed it up a bit by lining the base of the tin with thinly sliced orange slices before I poured in the batter, and served it with a crumb that I made from toasted almond praline that I blitzed in the nutribullet. Yes, I’ve been watching too much Masterchef, and no, it didn’t really add much to the dish.

I also made an orange sauce using half a cup of orange juice, 2 teaspoons sugar and 1 cinnamon stick that I reduced down a tad, before whisking in 30g of butter. With some vanilla ice cream on the side, it was declared a keeper.

 

Jimmy’s Cafe and Catering at Warana here on the Sunshine Coast does a monthly dinner featuring a single ingredient.  It’s a concept that I love – one ingredient used in each course of a four-course menu.

This month it was pumpkin and finally, after months of trying, we were lucky enough to get two seats at the table.

What did we eat?

First up was a Thai pumpkin curry with house smoked barramundi, crispy pork belly and roti. This was my favourite dish of the evening.

Next, we had fried pumpkin and ricotta gnocchi with sage butter sauce, parmesan and pepita dukkah. This was hubby’s dish of the day – and one I’m going to attempt to replicate at home.

The main was sous-vide lamb with pumpkin cake, pea puree, broccolini and jus. The lamb was super tender and I could have had an entire dish of the broccolini.

Finally, for dessert, we had pumpkin pie with a basil sorbet and ginger biscuit crumb. This was the first time that I’d tried pumpkin pie and I was pleasantly surprised. The basil sorbet was a perfect foil for the sweetness of the pumpkin.

It was a fabulous meal and got me thinking about my favourite pumpkin recipe – pumpkin macaroni cheese.

It’s got a fabulous golden colour, a crunchy herby topping, and beautifully squidgy insides. The quantities are fairly loose – I don’t tend to weigh stuff out. You can if you want. I’m also not precious about the type of cheese I use – Romano, parmesan, whatever…just make sure it’s freshly grated and not that powdery, smelly stuff.

I normally make this recipe with low-fat milk – for 2 reasons: it is usually all I have in the fridge and also, but naturally, more importantly, it makes me feel so much more virtuous, if, indeed one can feel virtuous making macaroni cheese!

Likewise, even though the pancetta does give a far superior taste and is worth the trip to the deli section if you have the time or are planning ahead. 
I’m not great at planning ahead, so tend to make do with the bacon that’s usually in the fridge.

If you really want to kid along with the faux healthy thing, serve it with a green salad – it helps cut through the cheese – but we prefer to eat it out of noodle bowls on our laps in front of the telly with a glass of red.

What you need:

  • Olive Oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
  • 1 dried chilli, crushed, or 1 large pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • ½ cinnamon stick
  • 1 large butternut pumpkin, peeled, de-seeded and chopped into 2cm chunks
  • 400g macaroni
  • 300ml milk
  • 1 cup (250ml) thickened cream
  • 150g parmesan, grated
  • 8 slices rindless bacon or pancetta, roughly diced
  • Sprig of fresh rosemary leaves picked
  • 3-4 slices day-old bread, crusts removed, torn into chunks (about 150g)

What you do with it:

  • Add a splash of olive oil to a saucepan over medium-low heat and fry the garlic gently until light brown.
  • Add the chilli, cinnamon & pumpkin and a glass of water or 2.
  • Cover with a lid and cook on medium heat for about 20mins or until the pumpkin is soft.
  • Uncover & boil the liquid around the pumpkin until reduced to almost nothing.
  • Remove from the heat and take out the cinnamon. Mash the pumpkin (I usually use a fork) & season. I usually mix through the milk & cream at this point.
  • Meanwhile, cook macaroni in boiling salted water until al dente. Don’t overcook the pasta at this stage as will be getting additional time in the oven with the sauce.
  • Drain it well and toss it into the mashed pumpkin mixture.
  • Add ¾ of the parmesan and season. Spoon it into a large (2 litre) baking dish.
  • Cook the pancetta or bacon in a large frypan over medium heat until light brown. Add rosemary and bread, fry gently for 1-2 minutes & then pulse in a food processor until chopped.
  • Sprinkle the pasta with the remaining parmesan, then top with the bacon, bread & rosemary crumbs.
  • Bake in an oven that you’ve had the forethought to heat to 200C for 30mins or until warmed through, and crispy and bubbling on top.

If you’re gluten-free simply substitute the macaroni for your usual gluten free pasta and omit the breadcrumbs.

I don’t really know whether it’s more correct to call this focaccia than flatbread – it certainly looked like focaccia. The recipe, however, says that it’s flatbread – or, rather, Schiacciata All’ Fungi (Flatbread with Mushroom) – so flatbread it is.

I’ve never had much luck with focaccia (or flatbread) in the past, which was why I was so thrilled with this recipe. It worked a treat. Of course, I think it’s better because of the mushrooms – which I’d sourced that morning from the Mushroom Man at the local Farmer’s Market, but I suspect that it would have tasted equally as good with supermarket mushrooms.

What you need

For the dough

  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 10g dried yeast
  • 3 1/3 cups plain flour (500g)
  • 1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt flakes

For the topping

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (60ml)
  • 150g swiss brown mushrooms cut into 1cm-thick slices
  • a few rosemary sprigs with the leaves picked
  • Extra 2 tsp olive oil for drizzling
  • Salt flakes to season

What you do with it

To make the dough

  • Combine 2 cups warm water, sugar and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer. Cover and leave it in a warm place until it’s frothy – about 10 mins.
  • Add flour, oil and salt and knead it for 10 minutes – using the dough hook thingie for your mixer. The dough should be quite shiny and elastic, but will also be quite wet.
  • Cover it with a (clean) tea towel and let it sit somewhere warm for an hour or so – until it’s doubled in size.

To make the topping

  • Heat the oil in a frypan over high heat, add the mushroom and cook for a minute or so – until just cooked through.
  • Stir through the rosemary and set aside

Putting it all together

  • Preheat your oven to 200C and grease a 24cmx30cm baking tray
  • Press dough into the tray and top with the mushroom, pushing it down into the dough a tad.
  • Drizzle over the extra oil and sprinkle with the salt flakes
  • Leave it to rest in that lovely warm place for another 10 minutes to prove slightly
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until the dough is golden brown and the smell is amazing.

To give credit where it’s due, this recipe came from one by Guy Grossi in the Delicious mag.

We’re fortunate in Australia that we can get most produce all year round. Having said that, I’m not sure that I’ve ever enjoyed strawberries as much as I do here on the Sunshine Coast. I think it has less to do with where I’m eating them as to how we’re buying them and eating them.

These days our berries come from the farmer’s markets, not the supermarket. They haven’t been in cold storage or treated with whatever it is that fruit is treated with to make it last until it hits the supermarket shelves. The berries we bought this week were picked by the grower the previous day – and taste more strawberryish (I made that word up) than any strawberry has the right to taste.

Although it’s still officially winter, we’re right in the middle of the strawberry season so we’ve been buying them by the kilo and popping them in the freezer for when they’re not so affordable. Miss T has smoothies for breakfast most mornings and loves frozen berries and frozen bananas in it.

I also have them most mornings for breakfast, but with passionfruit, unsweetened yoghurt and a handful of nutty gluten-free crunch. All local, all fresh, all tasty.

Of course I’ve also been using the berries in desserts. Our favourite way of serving them at the moment is macerated in cassis. It’s like a little piece of France in a bowl.

Then, of course, there’s the trifle.

In our house, trifles are hubby’s domain. He makes one once a year – for Christmas. He uses aeroplane jelly mix and cut up sponge cake. It’s a bit of a Christmas classic, so when I suggested making one for dessert, I was met with horrified faces. I had to promise that my trifle was going to be completely different and represented no attempted takeover of the Christmas trifle. I’ve got better things to do with my time at Christmas.

For a start, there’s no powdered jelly mix in sight.

To make the jelly you’ll need:

  • 500g mixed berries. I used 150g blueberries and the rest was strawberries.
  • Juice and grated rind of an orange
  • ¼ cup caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 3 gelatine leaves. I used titanium strength – it’s a lot, but you need the jelly to be firm enough to hold the sponge fingers, custard and cream.

Place everything except the gelatine in a saucepan and pretty much do what you did for the limoncello berries (above) ie bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer – for about 5-6 minutes.

While the berries are simmering, soften the gelatine leaves in cold water. This should take about 5 minutes.

Squeeze the excess water out of the squidgy gelatine and add it to the hot berry mixture. Stir until it’s dissolved, and set aside to cool for an hour before pouring into your trifle bowl – or bowls, if you’re being fancy schmancy. Put into the fridge to set for a couple of hours.

Once the jelly is set arrange some sponge fingers across the top, drizzle with sherry, and top with custard. Of course, you can make your own – but I was lazy and bought the dollop sort from the supermarket. Then it’s just a matter of spooning on some whipped cream and decorating with more berries.