If you are ever feeling low and in need of a good laugh then can I heartily recommend a trip to the Party Superstore at Clapham Junction on a Friday evening or Saturday morning?
This extraordinary shop is the setting of much hilarity. Above all, the shop is a fancy dress emporium selling and hiring literally thousands of different disguises. Upstairs you'll find every accessory you could possibly ever wish for including masks of the Queen, cowboy hats, fairy wings, feather boas and witches' broomsticks. But downstairs is where the real fun begins. The basement is home to a staggering array of costumes available for hire. You want to be superman for the night? No problem. A pirate? Well shiver me timbers if there aren't eight or nine suitable costumes to choose from. Cleopatra? Certainly.
I was there to pick up a 1920's flapper costume for a Great Gatsby themed birthday party I'm attending this weekend and I left with a huge grin on my face. The basement was packed with people selecting costumes for parties taking place over the weekend - three Irish men were dressed up as cowboys, one woman was trying to look virtuous as a nun and one (extremely attractive) man was dressed up as batman. He asked me what I thought of his outfit and I rather blushed as I gave it the seal of approval. What is it about superheros that makes us woman come over all funny??
After all that excitement I felt the need to cool off with a bowl of the supremely good ice cream I made last weekend. For some reason I've never made vanilla ice cream before. Other flavours, yes, but never plain old vanilla. I've always thought it to be rather dull. But now I've made my own, there is no looking back. The texture of homemade ice-cream is just so wonderful and really, I do think an ice-cream maker is worth every penny.
This recipe doesn't make a huge amount but it is exceedingly good. It is worth splashing out on really good quality vanilla pods. I spent a bit more than usual and bought Ndali vanilla from Uganda. Apparently if is more concentrated than ordinary premium beans with notes of spice and caramel. Who knows, but I have to say that the flavour was exceptionally good.
But I'm afraid that good as it was 'au natural', I couldn't help but add a few good things to it when it came to serving. I give here three different options. First up is Mars bar sauce; a favourite from my childhood that I'm sure I'll never grow out of. Second is another favourite; Pedro Ximenez Sherry. This thick, treacley, unctuous Sherry is almost more of a food than a drink. Although I occasionally like to drink it on its own in place of pudding, my favourite way is to pour a little over vanilla ice cream. Just heavenly. If you have the time, soak a few raisins in the Sherry overnight and add the lot to the ice-cream. You won't be disappointed.
Finally, a sort of recipe for caramel apples. Divine with the ice cream too. Sadly no picture of this one - I greedily devoured the lot before getting the camera out!
Really good vanilla ice-cream
1/2 pint whole, full fat milk (seriously, there is no place for semi-skimmed in this recipe)
1/2 pint double cream
4 egg yolks
4oz golden caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
1. Pour milk into saucepan and slowly bring to the boil. As soon as it starts to bubble, take off the heat. Meanwhile split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds. Once the milk is off the heat, add the seeds to the pan along with the scraped pods. Leave to infuse for around half an hour.
2. Using an electric whisk or mixer, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until fairly thick.
3. Remove vanilla pods from milk then pour the vanilla-infused milk into the egg mixture, stirring all the time. If using an electric mixer, just turn it to the slowest setting and pour slowly.
4. Once combined, pour the lot back into the saucepan and heat gently, stirring all the time until the custard has thickened. Caution is the word here - you don't want it to curdle which is what will happen if the mixture boils. If you are worried, you could do this in bowl set above a pan of simmering water. But you don't need to. Just be patient and keep stirring - once it coats the back of the spoon nicely, it is ready.
5. Leave mixture to cool (you could place bowl into a larger bowl of iced water to speed this up) and then chill in the fridge until cold.
6. When cold, mix in the double cream and then pour into your ice-cream maker according to the instructions. Usually, this will result in a very soft ice cream so I'd pop it in the freezer for a few hours to firm up before serving.
N.B. You don't have to have an ice-cream maker to make homemade ice-cream. Click here for instructions on how to make it without a machine (plus some info on the benefits of using a machine if you possibly can..
Mars Bar Sauce
Please note: this may not be health-enhancing but it certainly is mood-enhancing!
1 Mars bar per person
Milk (I'll let you use semi-skimmed here, if you wish!)
1. Chop the Mars bars up into small pieces. Take a small, non-stick milk pan and add the Mars bars along with a reasonable splash of milk - the photo gives an idea of ratios!
2. Turn the heat on low and melt, stirring with a wooden spoon as you go until you have a lovely smooth sauce. Pour over ice-cream.
3. Be sure to leave a little in the pan - come back to it 20 minutes later when it has started to solidify a little. Be sure to gorge yourself on the remnants straight from the wooden spoon. Please do this. It will make me feel better!
1 eating apple per person, sliced
equal amounts of butter and brown sugar (I used 50g of each for 3 people)
a little cinnamon
1. Melt butter in a frying pan and add the apple slices. Fry a little until starting to soften. Shake over the sugar and cinnamon and continue to cook and bubble, stirring all the time until the sauce has combined and taken on a caramelly colour. Serve alongside the ice-cream!