banana

Sun Days

As winter gives way to spring, a part of me laments the end of our cold weather and dreads the coming heat. But over the years I have begun to make peace with Apollo, mainly due to a severe vitamin D deficiency. So, much as it pains me, I have allowed the sun to touch my skin! Dracula was out in the sun in the novel, so I guess it’s OK for me too 🙂

One of the things I love most about warm weather is eating ice cream. As a child, I loved ice cream sundaes – especially the maraschino cherries!! I thought I would pay tribute to the sunniest day of the week – Sunday – with a sundae that combines my love of cold, dark winters and my new appreciation of the sun and summer. So I’ve combined a classic winter sticky toffee pudding with a summery banana split.

Sticky Toffee Banana Sundae

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Ingredients
for the date ice cream
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
125g dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1 litre vanilla ice cream

for the toffee sauce
120g unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup double cream

for serving
2 bananas, thinly sliced
400ml double cream, whipped
maraschino cherries

Method
Bring the sugar, water and butter to a boil in a saucepan on medium-high heat. Turn heat down to medium. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the dates.
Stirring occasionally, continue to simmer until the dates are mushy and combined. Allow to cool.
Once the dates are cool, remove the ice cream from the freezer and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to soften. Fold the cooled dates into the ice cream and return to the freezer to set.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Once the butter has melted turn the heat to medium and add the sugar, salt and cream. Stir continually with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved, being careful not to burn the caramel. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
To serve, line four serving bowls with banana slices. Pour 1/2 of the caramel sauce evenly over the bananas. Top with 3 scoops of ice cream each. Pour the remaining toffee sauce over the ice cream.
Top with whipped cream and a cherry or three!

Try swirling the date mixture through different types of ice cream flavours.

The Year Of The Red Fire Monkey

February 8 is Chinese New Year. We are saying goodbye to The Year of the Goat, Sheep or Antelope and welcoming in The Year of the Monkey.

Chinese New Year is a Lunar Festival that takes place between January and February. Celebrations usually begin on the New Moon closest to the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. In addition, each Chinese year has two components; a zodiacal one and an elemental one.

Most of us know the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. The rat is the first animal and is followed by the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep/goat, monkey, rooster, dog and finally the boar/pig. I always assumed this was a 12 year cycle but the yearly elemental associations complicate the system.

Each year also has a corresponding element and each element has a colour; wood (green), fire (red), earth (yellow), metal (white) and water (black/blue). Each element has a yin year and a yang year so each element has a 2 year cycle making it in fact a 10 year cycle. This 10 year elemental cycle is overlaid with the 12 year zodiac cycle. For the two to come back to the same point takes 60 years.

When I turn 60, I’ll be celebrating the Year of the Green Wood Snake in the Yang phase – the exact same configuration as when I was born. It will take another 60 years for the two cycles to play out and meet up again. I don’t think I will be around for that one 🙂

When we take into consideration the elemental and zodiacal calendars, this year is actually The Year Of The Red Fire Monkey. It is the first phase of Fire which is Yin and the lucky colour is Red. We will have to wait another 60 years for A Red Fire Monkey in the Yin phase to repeat.

To celebrate this Red Fire Monkey year, I have created a banana cupcake topped with chocolate chilli ganache and served in a red cupcake case.

Red Fire Monkey Cupcakes

fire monkey

Makes 24 mini and 6 large cupcakes

Ingredients
for the banana cupcakes
1 cup mashed bananas, approximately 2 large bananas
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (125g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups plain flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate), sifted
1 teaspoon cinnamon, sifted

for the chocolate chilli ganache
330g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
1 + 1/2 cups double cream
3/4 teaspoon chilli powder

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 24-hole mini muffin pan with 24 paper cases.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 6 paper cases.
In a medium sized bowl, beat together the bananas and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy and combined. Beat in the eggs one at a time until combined. Add the butter and buttermilk. Beat until combined.
Using a spatula or wooden spoon, gently fold in the flour, baking soda and cinnamon until combined.
Spoon the batter evenly into the 24 mini paper cases and the 6 large paper cases.
Bake mini cupcakes for 10 – 15 minutes and the 6 larger cupcakes for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cuppycake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting by placing the chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Place the cream and chilli powder into a saucepan. Heat until the cream just starts to boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for one minute then whisk until smooth and glossy. Allow to cool before refrigerating for 1 hour. Bring out of the fridge and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Place in a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.

Note:
The ganache has a mild chilli flavour. Add more chilli powder if you would like it hotter!