It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.
~ Erma Bombeck
Ever since I started this blog and dabbled often with food and fresh ingredients, I've had time to reflect on how fortunate we, the people of Borneo island are. We have plenty of tropical bounty, and yet because my country (Brunei) is so small, it is unable to produce enough food for the whole population. Hence many of our staples like rice and sugar, as well as our fruits and vegetables, are still imported from neighboring countries and sometimes a little bit further offshore.
And that's why I feel blessed to be at this location and in this situation where we not only get to support our local farmers, we also, through our supply and demand limitations, get to support farmers from exporting countries (because let's face it, every farmer in the world needs to make a living and feed their families too, right?).
Sweet corn and longans
Right now, the markets are bursting at the seams with both local and foreign produce. Take one day last week, for example. Diva D and I came back with a truckload of fruits and vegetables you see in these photos. Luckily, the market doesn't take credit cards, otherwise who knew what else we would impulsively lug home with us? Within the space of an hour, we had purchased fresh corn, longans, huge, finger-like red chillies and limes. But we also grabbed some rare, seasonal produce from overseas like beetroot, radishes, white peaches and strawberries (finally!). And when we saw the biggest, freshest juiciest dates for the first time in a long time, well, they weren't safe from our shopping baskets either!
Chillies and limes
Beetroot, radishes, peaches and strawberries
And then there were dates...
Returning home, I flippantly declared, "Never fear, ice cream days are here!". Erm, I didn't actually say it in those exact words but mumbled something about preserves and such... Of course, I had a better preservation method in mind, and that was to immortalize the various fresh flavors as ice cream ;-). Where would I start, though? Oh yes, hopefully you already saw the first one I made - Lemongrass, Chilli and Lime ice cream. It was wild, oh-so-wildly delicious!
This time, I was inspired to make something out of the dates and strawberries, buoyed in the sweet licorice undertones of fennel seeds. I can't tell you for sure how I come up with these unusual flavor combinations and this may sound sick, but I just know. My mental palate tells me what works well together and what doesn't. I think Gordon Ramsay would love me, but frankly, I wouldn't be able to take any of his BS screaming and in all likelihood would retaliate. That would be one hell of a Hell's Kitchen! LOL. Anyway, as usual, I digress.
So the cream base of the frozen treat (I'm tired of saying 'ice cream') was flavored with the sweet and aromatic taste of fennel, which I love. By the way, did you all know that fennel is a key ingredient in major spice blends such as Indian curry powders, Chinese Five Spices and the French Herbes de Province? As well as being used in savory dishes, it is also frequently used in baked breads, cakes and cookies. In some countries, fennel seeds are served with sugar as an after-meal mouth freshener. Can you envisage now how lovely this spice would taste in an ice cream?
I decided to blend the dates with the fennel cream to make a custard that carried a slightly middle-eastern flair. The fresh strawberries were transformed into a compote and swirled into the semi-frozen ice cream to give that 'rippled' effect. Topped with some julienned fresh dates, and it was all set to be chowed down! Oh. My. Goodness. Do I even need to tell you how fantabulous this tasted?
Now so far, I have shared with you my video stash of hip and happening young artistes and musicians, but today let's listen to a golden oldie. No, not Rod Stewart! He'll forever be 27 (or is that the age of his girlfriends?). This is Rod Stewart like you've never seen him before, singing a golden classic. And I must say, he is breathtaking here. The few minutes you take out of your life to enjoy this will be worth it, I promise.
Makes about 3 cups
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup (about 8 large) fresh dates, peeled and pitted
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Crush the fennel seeds using a pestle and mortar, or a rolling pin. Add them to the cream in a small heavy saucepan and bring just to a simmer. Turn off the heat, cover pan and let steep for about 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, blanch the dates in a bowl or pan of boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain and let dates cool slightly, then peel off skin with by inserting a toothpick it underneath the skin to loosen it. Cut open dates and remove seeds. (Express tip: You can skip peeling the dates by blending them together with the milk as in Step 3 below, then straining the liquid afterwards to eliminate the skin. Just remember to remove the seeds first!)
3. Process dates with milk and salt in a blender until smooth. Pour into a pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly.
4. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, stir the remaining 2 tablespoons milk and cornstarch until well combined. Add the cornstarch mixture to the hot milk and return saucepan to heat. As soon as the mixture starts to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to a custard-like consistency.
5. Strain fennel cream through fine-mesh sieve into date custard, pressing on solids. Stir mixture until well combined.
6. Leave fennel-date custard to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours in the refrigerator or 45 minutes in the freezer. Note: Custard can be chilled, covered, in refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
7. To make the strawberry compote, place the strawberries, sugar and vanilla in a small pan and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until sugar melts and the berries are softened. Set aside to cool.
8. Pour the chilled custard into the ice-cream maker and freeze according to the instructions of your ice-cream machine. When the ice cream is nearly frozen (about 15-20 minutes), pour the strawberry compote into the bowl of the ice cream maker and churn for about 30 seconds to allow the compote to drizzle through the ice cream. Transfer to a container and freeze until ready to serve. Remove from freezer and let stand for 10 minutes to soften slightly before serving.