Strawberry, mint and balsamic cheesecake

I’m not the biggest fan of cheesecake, so I won’t be waxing lyrical about this recipe. As cheesecakes go though, it’s a real good’un. The addition of mint and balsamic stop it from being one-dimensional creaminess, and turn it into something a bit more sophisticated and interesting.

It’s a Fiona Cairns (of royal wedding cake-maker fame) concoction from her Bake & Decorate cookbook. If you’ve got some end-of-season strawberries, then this would be a great way of using them up—especially if you’re throwing a party for pudding lovers over the weekend, and you’re looking for a centre piece to finish the meal with.

Ingredients
For the base:
50g unsalted butter, melted, plus
more for the tin
300g dark chocolate digestive
biscuits
10 large mint leaves, finely
Chopped

For the strawberry filling:
300g strawberries, thinly sliced
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
10 large mint leaves, finely
chopped
1 tbsp icing sugar
For the cream cheese filling:
3 tsp gelatine crystals
250g unsalted cream cheese,
at room temperature
300ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
45g golden caster sugar

To decorate:
150-200g strawberries
few sprigs of mint

Preheat the oven to 170C. Butter very well the base and sides of a 23cm diameter, 7.5cm deep, round springform tin, making sure the flat side of the springform base is uppermost (the lipped side makes it hard to remove the cheesecake).

Put the biscuits in a polythene bag, seal, then bash with a rolling pin until very fine. Tip into a bowl and mix in the butter and mint. Lightly press into the tin with a spoon. Bake for 15 minutes, then leave to cool.

For the strawberry filling, simply mix everything together in a bowl and leave for 1-2 hours for the strawberries to absorb the flavours. Drain the strawberries, reserving all the delicious juices.

For the cream cheese filling, place 3 tbsp cold water into a small, wide-bottomed heatproof bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Every single crystal must be wet, or it will turn to lumps later on. Set the bowl over a pan of hot (not boiling) water until every crystal has melted. Don’t let it get too hot or it won’t set properly.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. In another bowl, lightly whip the cream and vanilla. Using an electric mixer (or handheld whisk), whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick, pale and doubled in volume. Carefully fold in the cream cheese, then the cream.

Take the strawberry juices and mix them into the gelatine liquid, sieve out any lumps, then fold in a spoonful of the cream mixture. Once well blended, gently fold in the remaining cream. Spread the marinated strawberries over the centre of the biscuit base, ensuring they do not reach the edges. Spoon on the cream, level the surface and place in the refrigerator overnight to set.

When you are ready to serve, dip a knife into hot water, release the spring and run the knife around the edge of the tin. Ease off the base with a warm palette knife and transfer to a serving dish. Finally, decorate with the sliced strawberries and mint sprigs.

Pondering pineapples

When a baby bird hatches from an egg, it decides that the first thing it sees is its mother. Well, when my friend Rob came round from general anesthetic, the first thing he saw was a pineapple. Really. His mum had put it on his bedside table.

It would be wrong to imply that this is where his pineapple fetish began—apparently Rob and pineapples go way, way back. Pineapples in curry, on baked potatoes, impaled on a cocktail stick with cheese, in lasagne….he did draw the line at pineapple in shepherd’s pie though: “that’s just stupid”.

It’s a mysterious fruit – neither a pine nor an apple. And one with such strong connotations. A pineapple ring on gammon steak harks back to the days when Toby Carvery was in its prime, a pineapple filled with piña colada belongs on Hawaiian sunset cruises…and cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks jabbed into foil-wrapped melons are to be wolfed down by moustached men wearing all-in-one ski suits, firing up fondues and flinging their car keys in a dish.

Rarely do you come across a fruit that divides opinion like a pineapple. The uncompromising nature of a Hawiian pizza, the floaty chunks of pineapple which haunt a sweet and sour sauce, and the sickly sweetness of a Tiki cocktail.

What is the story of this peculiar fruit though? Some suggest that Christopher Columbus first stumbled across the pineapple on Guadeloupe in 1493, while others credit Magellan with the fruit’s discovery as he allegedly transported it from Brazil to England in 1519. Interestingly, it wasn’t until 1770 that Captain Cook introduced the pineapple to Hawaii—the island which it’s most strongly associated with now.

It was on the island of Hawaii that the pineapple’s story gets interesting. When Queen Lili’o‘kalani was overthrown in 1893, the island was governed by a certain Sanford B. Dole. Now, Dole’s 22-year old cousin John saved up enough money to emigrate to the island and buy a 64 acre estate where he started planting pineapples.
When things kicked off, he decided to start canning the fruit so it’d keep longer, and invested in a new machine that could peel and core 35 pineapples each minute. Just imagine. By 1921 the Dole Hawaiian Pineapple Company had grown so big, pineapples had become Hawaii’s largest crop and its biggest industry.

Today, the pineapples are the third most canned fruit (pipped to the crown by apple sauce and peaches!) but the real question is how to use pineapples in cooking in a way that doesn’t make everything taste of 1975. I’ve posted some photos which will firstly will prove the point that it’s hard to cook with pineapples in a sensible fashion, and secondly, will (I suspect) make Rob very happy.

This is the only pineapple recipe I’ve ever really liked. It’s a Jamie Oliver gem called pukka pineapple or something along those lines.
Other than this recipe, I think the only safe solution is to eat the fruit neat. If know of any decent pineapple recipes, please send them my way. Or if you think I’ve been harsh on the fruit leave me a note below which might convince me to be more tolerant of the poor old pineapple.

Ingredients
1 ripe pineapple
4 heaped teaspoons of caster sugar
1 handful of fresh mint
optional: yoghurt to serve

Method
Cut the pineapple into quarters lengthways (having removed the core). Finely slice and arrange on a big plate.
Use a pestle and mortar to grind together the sugar and mint. The sugar will start to turn green, and it will smell so fresh and delicious. Sprinkle this over the pineapple, and serve with plain yoghurt.

Green Sauce

Usually I make a bit of effort with the photographs of the food I eat…but on this occasion I failed.
I blame it on the fact that this sauce is so intensely delicious, it disappeared before I could get the lens cap off my camera, so you’ll just have to make do with this unappetizing photograph I took before it was put it on the table which doesn’t do it justice at all!… 

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Ottolenghi’s Roasted Butternut Squash with Burnt Aubergine and Pomegranate Molasses

Ingredients

1 large butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp green, unsalted pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 tbsp black sesame seeds
(1 tsp nigella seeds)
10g sliced almonds
basil leaves, to serve
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper… 

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