Start with two eggs and end up with icecream and mayonnaise!

Okay, so what does that mean, exactly? What on earth do icecream and mayonnaise have in common? It’s simple: they both(or at least the home-made variety) start with an egg, or two, in this case, as I was making a decent amount of both icecream and mayonnaise.

Simply put, the icecream starts with two egg whites; the mayonnaise with two egg yolks. And you can make them at the same time–or, rather, one immediately after the other. Both recipes are ultra-simple: they’re my own invention(especially in the case of the icecream–haven’t really seen any other recipes quite like it) but can be easily reproduced by anyone.

So let’s start! Assemble your ingredients: two eggs, which are of course common to both recipes: best for them not to be too cold (cold interferes especially with the successful thickening of the mayonnaise), so if they are in the fridge, take them out at least half an hour beforehand. Then for the icecream, you’ll need pure full cream(NOT thickened or light cream); castor sugar; and flavourings as desired(see recipe below). For the mayonnaise, you’ll need sunflower oil, a very small amount of vinegar(say a quarter-half teaspoon), salt and pepper. You will also need bowls for the icecream and the mayonnaise(in the case of the icecream, you need two bowls, one for the egg white mix, one for the cream, and if you want to make different flavours like I did this time, you’ll need more than that, to separate them out.

Now separate the eggs, putting the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. I then made the icecream first but that’s not a rule or anything, you can do whichever first.

Icecream recipe (I call it my ‘snowball icecream’)

Beat the egg whites till soft peaks form, then add three tablespoons of castor sugar (one after the other, beating in between), beating the mix till it goes glossy, like meringue mix. Set aside and whip 300 ml of pure cream with one tablespoon castor sugar till glossy and thick. Blend the two mixes together, and that’s your base. Then flavour it with whatever you like: vanilla, melted chocolate, coffee, jam…The thing to remember is you must not mix in anything that is watery or juicy. So if you want a fruit flavour, for example, you use jam–strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, cherry are all especially delicious–not fresh fruit. The reason for that is that anything watery or juicy tends to form ice crystals: this icecream recipe makes particularly wonderful creamy soft-textured icecream which does not need any extra beating after freezing or special equipment, as long as you remember not to add those watery/juicy things. Below you can see the ones I made the other day: vanilla-flavoured(made with vanilla-bean-flavoured castor sugar, but you can also use vanilla essence); chocolate(dark chocolate melted with a tiny bit of cream) and strawberry(using our home-made jam made from divinely tasty Alpine strawberries).

This was to make a kind of home-made Neapolitan icecream. Okay, so then you put your icecream into a suitable container–if you’re making more than one flavour, you simply layer the flavours in the container) and stick it in the freezer. It will be ready in several hours: you can either make it in the morning to eat at night, or better still, make it in the evening to have for the next day. And that’s it! Like I said, no extra beating required, no special equipment of any sort(in fact I just use a hand beater to make the mix and that’s it) and the texture and taste is always wonderful. And it always works.

Mayonnaise recipe

Use a hand whisk for this one, it gives the best results. And by the way I use sunflower oil as experimenting has shown that gives the best classic subtle flavour: olive oil, which I normally use in sauces, is too strong, and other oils don’t seem to have the same subtlety as sunflower, in my experience, though canola is okay, and grapeseed oil as well. Add a tiny bit of vinegar to your egg yolks, stir in gently, then take your bottle of sunflower oil and slowly let in a trickle of oil into the yolks, beating as you go, then another trickle, whisking still, making sure that the egg is thickening up with the oil, and keeping that trickle going for quite a while so you get a good lot of lovely thick smooth mayonnaise. It shouldn’t be too ‘eggy’ in taste or too oily; taste it at various moments to check. Then add salt and pepper and any other flavourings you like: I’ve added piment d’Espelette to mine this time, but you can use herbs such as tarragon or thyme, or roasted garlic, whatever you fancy. Put in the fridge to cool–can be used within just a couple of hours. It will keep in the fridge, in a covered container, for around 3 days.

So now you can see how you can start with two eggs and end up with icecream and mayonnaise. Hope you enjoy creating your own!

My version of merlu koskera from the Basque country

Last night, to round off a week of celebrations around A Hundred Words for Butterfly, and to keep up the Basque theme, I made the dish known as ‘merlu koskera’, which is a beloved fish and vegetable soup/stew popular up and down the Basque coast, on both sides of the border, from Biarritz to San Sebastian and beyond. If ttoro, the delicious fish and seafood soup from the Basque coast, which I featured in an earlier post, is flamboyant in its rich redness, merlu koskera is themed around green and white, the other colours of the Basque flag. Traditionally, it’s a spring dish that features ‘merlu’, a type of cod, with seafood, asparagus, peas and boiled eggs as other ingredients, cooked in a delicious sauce of fish stock and white wine, and flavoured with parsley, garlic and piment d’Espelette. But as with most Basque dishes, it’s a flexible thing that can be interpreted according to what you have on hand, and that’s what I did. Here in Australia we can’t get merlu, so I substituted Pacific cod(bought frozen from the supermarket) and as our peas are not yet ready, it being a bit too early in spring for that, I substituted spinach for them. The asparagus though is ready so a bunch of them, fresh-picked from the garden, went into the dish, along with boiled eggs and prawns. (Mussels and clams are also popular additions in the Basque country). And of course piment d’Espelette (for which as I’ve indicated before, you can at a pinch substitute hot non-smoked paprika). My version of the dish was also less on the soupy side, more on the stewy side instead! If you want more soupy, add more fish stock than what I’ve indicated here.

So here’s my version of merlu koskera:

Ingredients (for 2 people): bunch of asparagus, steamed; handful of ‘English’ spinach, lightly steamed; 2 small/medium fillets cod; 6 prawns (or any other seafood you want); 2-3 boiled eggs; chopped parsley; 3 cloves garlic, sliced; half a cup of fish stock; splash white wine; pinch piment d’Espelette; salt to taste.

Method:

Lightly flour the cod fillets, and fry till the coating is getting golden. Add the parsley and garlic, lightly fry(do not let it burn). Add the fish stock and white wine and simmer for about 5 mins. Meanwhile, quickly cook the prawns in a little olive oil, set aside. Add the cooked spinach to the fish mix, stir(without disturbing the fish, add prawns and asparagus, heat through, quickly. Take pan off heat, arrange everything, including the halved boiled eggs, in a large dish or bowl, with the spinach down the bottom, the cod on top and everything else arranged around it. Sprinkle with the piment d’Espelette and serve with bread and boiled potatoes if you want. And that’s it!

Note: If you want to do the whole traditional thing, the peas(pre-cooked) go in at the same time as the spinach did in my version.

A fabulous launch; a lovely digital magazine to celebrate

We had the best time last night at the launch of A Hundred Words for Butterfly! Part of the launch included readings by the fabulous writers who were finalists and winners in the #100words4butterfly writing comp, and their stories, as well as some of my Basque-themed recipes, appear in this gorgeous digital magazine put together by the wonderful Hannah Oakshott from Spineless Wonders Short Australian Stories. Yummy food and amazing microlit–a perfect combination–check it all out below!

Congratulations to all the finalists and winners, and thank you so much to all the wonderful Spineless Wonders team, it was an absolutely awesome launch and I am still on a high!

Pintxos to have with your Butterfly cocktails

Here are the perfect snacks to have with Abby’s gorgeous cocktails: pintxos!

Pinxtos (pronounced ‘pinchohs’) are the Basque version of tapas.  They are very popular in the Basque country(and beyond!). San Sebastian, just across the Spanish border, is renowned for its pinxtos bars but there are lots of popular pinxtos bars in the French Basque country too, especially on the coast, in my mother’s family’s stamping ground of Biarritz, Bayonne, Anglet, St Jean de Luz and so on. And people make them at home for parties, family gatherings etc. They are pretty hearty and a plate of assorted ones can constitute a real meal! Pinxtos differ from tapas in that they are always served on bread( very often slices of baguette), with a toothpick holding down the topping(actually ‘pintxo ‘ literally means ‘spiked’). The toppings will often feature Basque staples such as tomatoes, ham, eggs, capsicums, fish, seafood, cheese, etc, but can be as simple or complicated as you like, and there’s no one right way to do it: it’s totally up to you what you do! Just the bread and the toothpick are the basics:-) Piment d’Espelette of course can add that authentic touch!

With most, brushing the bread with a bit of olive oil first is a good idea.

Here’s some ideas for simple Basque-inspired toppings to get you started:

Roasted capiscum with marinated squid/octopus;

Semi-dried tomatoes with soft goat’s cheese and a dab of cherry jam on top (the combination of cheese and cherries is very popular in the Basque country)

Black olive tapenade with  Serrano-style ham or salami

Green olive tapenade with half a boiled egg and a sprinkle of piment d’Espelette or paprika

Grilled or barbecued prawns on cooked spinach

Marinated sardines or anchovies with caramelised onion

Mix of roasted vegs(eg capsicum, tomato, eggplant–or your choice) with roasted garlic

The ttoro recipe from my Basque cookalong Live

My Basque cookalong Live happened last night over Spineless Wonders Facebook and Zoom, and it was a lot of fun! I introduced people to the Basque country, or at least our family’s part of it, told stories–about my upcoming book, A Hundred Words for Butterfly, about my family and even told a Basque fairy tale!–and of course, I also cooked! The cookalong was built around creating the delicious Basque fish soup known as ‘ttoro’ (pronounced ‘tioro’) which is both delicious and easy to make, and judging from people’s messages afterwards, with accompanying photos, it was indeed deemed both by those who joined in the cookalong!

I thought today I’d put up my recipe so anyone who missed the cookalong can still make it if they want.

Ttoro soup from St Jean de Luz

(Basque fish soup)

This gorgeous but easy-to-make fish soup originates from the fishing port of St Jean de Luz, in the French Basque country, but is popular all over the Basque coast. You can find it in restaurants and in homes—everyone has their own version. My mother, who came from Biarritz, had her own, and this recipe is inspired by her gorgeous creation. And like all ttoros, it features the ‘magic ingredient’ of the Basques: piment d’Espelette, which comes from the lovely hills farms around the picturesque small town of Espelette, 24 kms inland from Biarritz. This delicious red pepper powder has a unique flavour, both warmly spicy and piquantly sweet and fruity, which is the reason why this traditional Basque spice has its own AOP appellation in France (the peppers can only be grown in the area around Espelette). Its gorgeous colour also imparts a beautiful red to the soup. You can easily obtain it online: in Australia, order from the Culinary Club or The Essential Ingredient. However, if you can’t get piment d’Espelette, use a god hot paprika(non-smoked). It won’ be quite the same, but it will still be pretty nice.

So for two people, you’ll need:

*Two tomatoes, chopped

*One red capsicum, chopped

*One medium onion, chopped

*Four cloves garlic, sliced

*Olive oil

*Salt

*Piment d’Espelette or paprika(as above)

*Two fillets of fish, cut into pieces(your choice of fish)

*Around 8-10 prawns, peeled and cooked

*A bit of any other seafood you fancy: eg mussels, squid, scallops, etc

(To make it really easy you can simply use a good marina mix)

*3-4 cups of pre-prepared seafood/fish stock (home-made with fish heads/prawn shells, quickly fried with olive oil, salt and piment d’Espelette, then covered with water and boiled for about 20 mins, left to stand till used, then strained. Or you can simply use fish/seafood stock cubes)

Method:

In a good-sized pan, fry the onions and garlic in olive oil till starting to soften. Add the tomatoes and capsicum, stir, add salt and half a teaspoon of piment d’Espelette or paprika, and leave to cook for about 5-6 mins with lid on. Then pour in the hot stock, and allow to cook at a simmer for a further 5-6 mins, to absorb the flavours. Then add the pieces of raw fish, and cook for 2-3 mins. Add the rest of the seafood, including the prawns. Cook for about another 2-3 mins, at a simmer. Sprinkle more piment d’Espelette in. Taste, add salt if necessary. Then take off stove, and serve with bread! The soup also keeps well overnight in the fridge—you can eat the delicious leftover soup, heated up, the next day!

Living in the Basque country: video about my artist sister Camille

My artist sister Camille Masson Talansier lives in the small town of Hasparren in the Basque country, 25 kms inland from Biarritz. In this charming video, made for the run-up to the release of my audio novel A Hundred Words for Butterfly, you get a glimpse of her life in this beautiful region, and the things that are important to her: art, food, family.

To check out more of Camille’s art, visit her Instagram page here, and website here.

Basque cookalong on Facebook Live: get ready!

On Friday August 27, at 7pm Australian Eastern Standard time, as part of the events around my upcoming audio novel, A Hundred Words for Butterfly, I’ll be doing a Basque cookalong, as a Facebook Live on Spineless Wonders’ page. During the cookalong, we’ll be creating a simple and delicious Basque fish soup, based on the version my mother used to make and which I grew up with. So that you can have everything ready before the day, I’ve made a video which explains all the ingredients to gather and prep to do before the cookalong.

To join the cookalong, register your interest here or simply join on the day.

Hope to see you there!

Simple Basque food: part 3

Today I’m posting the recipe for the final part of our Basque-themed meal. It’s probably the most famous dessert in the French Basque country, and is known simply as ‘Gateau Basque’. In A Hundred Words for Butterfly, my characters enjoy a slice or two of it more than once!

Rather than a ‘cake’ as such, the Gateau Basque is a pie with a yummy buttery, eggy pastry, filled with a lovely egg custard flavoured with rum. There’s also a less common black cherry-filled version in some areas of the Pays Basque which are known for their cherries. Today, the pastry sometimes incorporates almond meal as well as flour, but it’s more traditional not to use it, as almonds are not a traditional part of Basque cooking. But it’s up to you!

Found on family and celebration tables and in every patisserie across the region (with people flocking to the best examples of it in town and village patisseries and fervently discussing the relative merits of each!) it’s both simple and utterly delicious, a real treat to make and to eat!

Gateau Basque (this recipe serves 6-8 people)

Ingredients for the pastry: 300 g self-raising flour (or plain flour with one teaspoon baking powder), 125 g unsalted butter (chopped into pieces), 220g caster sugar, 3 egg yolks, grated zest of one lemon

For the custard cream: ¼ litre milk, 25 g plain flour, 60 g sugar, 3 egg yolks, one tablespoon rum

Method for the pastry:  In a bowl, tip in the flour, make a well in the centre, add the chopped butter, the egg yolks, and the lemon zest. (Also add in baking powder now if you are using plain flour). Mix thoroughly, working the pastry into an elastic, homogenous whole. (You can add a little water—a very small amount!– if you have trouble making it stick). Let the pastry rest for about half an hour.

Method for the cream: While the pastry is resting, mix the egg yolks, flour, sugar and rum in a bowl. Heat the milk to boiling point. Pour the hot milk onto the egg mix in the bowl, stirring the whole time. Tip the mix into a saucepan, and heat carefully, stirring as you go, till the mix is nicely thick. Do not let it catch. Turn off the heat, let cream cool.

Putting it together: Divide the pastry into two parts, roll out each of them to make two circles. Butter and lightly flour a springform cake pan, lay one of the pastry circles on the bottom, then put in the thick, cooled cream. Put the second circle on top, crimp the pastry edges together so cream is completely hidden. With a fork, score the top of the cake (without going right through), brush with a little reserved egg white and put in a hot oven for 30 minutes.

Serve warm or cold (the cake keeps really well–that is, if you can hold off eating it all!)

Simple Basque food: part 2

In a scene from A Hundred Words for Butterfly, my characters are in the charming village of Espelette and sit down to enjoy a very classic local dish: axoa (pronounced ‘atchoa’).

Traditionally served on market days, this simple and delicious Basque stew was popularised in Espelette, and in fact in recipe books is often called ‘axoa d’Espelette‘. This dish really highlights piment d’Espelette and in my previous post I indicated where you can easily buy it, but as I mentioned, hot paprika(non-smoked) will make a reasonable substitute (note that sweet paprika is too mild, and smoked paprika really doesn’t taste anything like the piment). The axoa really benefits from cooking ahead and letting it rest—for instance, you could cook it at lunchtime but serve it at dinner time. Even cooking it an hour or so ahead of serving and letting it sit will enhance the flavours. But don’t despair if you don’t have time–it’s excellent even if you don’t have time to cook ahead!

This recipe is my version of axoa, with a twist on tradition. Not only do I provide a vegetarian as well as a meat version, I use green capsicum (bell pepper) instead of the more traditional long pale green pepper (mild variety). Red capsicum however is a traditional part of the stew. And together they look just right, highlighting the traditional vibrant Basque colours of red and green! In the quantities given, the recipes each serve 3-4 people. (‘Axoa’ by the way means ‘chopped’ in Basque, referring to the meat).

Ingredients common to both versions: one large onion, 3 cloves garlic, 1 red capsicum, 1 green capsicum, olive oil, chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, bay leaf), piment d’Espelette, salt, 200 ml water or stock.

Other ingredients for meat version: 500 g diced veal (the traditional meat for this dish) or pork (which also goes well, in my experience), or 500 g minced veal or pork. Chicken could also be used.

Other ingredients for vegetarian version: 150 g soaked beans. I used black-eyed beans as they don’t take too long to cook (and we grew them!) but you could also use Lima beans (butter beans) or white haricot beans. Also, a bit of extra vegetable stock to cook the beans. If you are making the vegetarian version, cook the beans in stock first till they are at least three-quarters cooked, before adding to the basic mix to cook more.

So, first of all chop your onion, garlic and herbs. Deseed and dice the red and green capsicums. In a pan, cook the onion, garlic and capsicums in olive oil for 15 minutes then add the diced meat or the part-cooked beans, add the herbs, salt, and dash of piment d’Espelette. Reduce the heat and add the water or stock and cook at low heat, lid on, for about 45 minutes. The meat should be very tender but not falling apart, ditto the beans, and the sauce should be thick and reduced. After you turn off the heat, let the stew sit for as long as you can, before reheating, adding another sprinkle of piment d’Espelette, and serving with boiled potatoes or rice.