Evolution has hard-wired us to crave the foods that are difficult to find in nature: read fats, salt and sugar. We inevitably overindulge if they are abundant, and it is when you eat too much of anything that it will harm you.
It took us about 40 years but it seems we are finally over fat, and sugar has taken over as the most demonised food. Traditionally, things like cream were an occasional treat. To the French, Creme Chantilly, sweetened whipped cream flavoured with vanilla, something we now consider a mere accompaniment, is a stand-alone dessert and shows their traditional reverence for things like cream.
Bearing this in mind I enjoy the occasional sally into the world of dairy and like dishes made with cream. Like the French I don’t see why I should deny myself anything when it comes to food (it wouldn’t be called food otherwise), I just don’t eat too much — and I would also far rather eat a little of a natural product like cream or butter than any amount of processed or synthetic product.
I don’t try to fool myself by using “lite” cream, and I wasn’t brought up with the idea of different grades of cream (single, double etc), I was brought up with New Zealand cream, which incidentally I can remember English refugees from postwar Britain saying was just like English double cream. So I just buy cream (although I also like those other great cream products, naturally thickened sour cream, creme fraiche, clotted cream and mascarpone).
Cream is “dead versatile’ as they might say in the north of England; you can use it for sweet and savoury dishes, cooked or raw. And you can whip it! Here are a few of my favourite ways to use it.
Make a creamy rice pudding — put 600ml each of cream and full cream milk in an ovenproof dish with about 80g risotto rice, 6 tablespoons of brown sugar, zest of 1 lemon, a cinnamon stick and 1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds and mix well. Place in a 150C oven for 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until thick and creamy. When it is almost ready, remove from the oven. Make some caramel (toffee) with a cup of caster sugar and a little water boiled (not stirred) until it turns golden. Drizzle this evenly over the rice pudding and let it cool a little. Serve the hot rice pudding with a scoop of hokey pokey icecream and whipped cream.
Easy berry millefeuille — roll out 2 identical rectangles of made-with-butter flaky pastry, about 25cm by 10cm each. Prick all over with a fork and bake at 200C for 15-20 minutes or until very well cooked. Remove and cool. Spread one rectangle with strawberry jam, then a thick layer of whipped cream and sliced strawberries, or thawed drained frozen berries. Place the other rectangle on top, dust with icing sugar and serve in thick slices.
Old-school French pork with prunes. Soak pitted prunes in plenty of dry white wine. Reserve. Slice pork fillet 2.5cm and gently beat each slice out on the cut side so you have plump medallions. Dust with flour and gently pan-fry until golden and just cooked. Remove. Add the wine and prunes to the hot pan, bubble for 30 seconds then add a dollop of redcurrant jelly and plenty of cream. Boil until the sauce is a light caramel colour and the consistency of thick cream. Return the pork to the sauce, taste, season and serve with mashed potatoes and steamed green beans.
Cut large rounds from made-with-butter flaky pastry and brush the tops with beaten egg. Place side by side on a baking tray and bake at 200C until well cooked. Remove and reserve. Slow-fry plenty of chopped shallots, finely diced carrot, thinly sliced celery, a little garlic and the zest of a lemon for 10 minutes or until the shallot is soft. Add a splash of white wine and let it evaporate. Add vegetable or chicken stock to just cover and simmer until the carrot is soft. Add cream to cover and plenty of diced skinned, boned, firm white fish and a handful of raw peeled prawns, simmer a few minutes, lightly thicken with a little cornflour mixed with cold water, stir in some capers and chopped chervil and serve sandwiched in the pastries.
Make syllabub. In a bowl place the zest and juice of a large lemon, 3 tablespoons caster sugar, 2 tablespoons brandy and 3 tablespoons dry white wine. Mix until the sugar dissolves then add 300ml cream but don’t mix. Reserve at room temperature for 20 minutes or until the cream has thickened when stirred slowly. Serve over poached rhubarb with crumbled amaretti biscuits on top.
For chicken with tarragon and mushroom cream sauce, gently beat out some organic boneless chicken thighs to an even thickness. Dust with flour and gently brown in butter in a frying pan over moderate heat. Remove from the pan and add lots of thinly sliced button mushrooms, a finely chopped shallot and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or ½ teaspoon dried tarragon. Slow fry until the mushrooms give up their juice then add a big splash of white wine. Turn up the heat and let the wine bubble then add the reserved chicken. Cover with cream and simmer for 10 minutes or until thick and the chicken is cooked. Taste, season and serve with steamed rice and a salad to follow.
Whip a large bowl of cream then drizzle thick coconut cream over the top. Sprinkle with toasted coconut and lime zest. Serve with a pile of bought meringues and plenty of sliced peeled mangoes, pawpaw and pineapple. Chocolate sauce optional.
Cut an iceberg lettuce into thick wedges, brush with extra virgin olive oil and grill each side of each wedge over high heat until browned. Place on a platter. Mix crumbled feta, plenty of cream, lemon juice, crushed garlic, toasted cumin seeds and thinly sliced chillies and drizzle this over the lettuce. Sprinkle with toasted walnuts and coriander and serve with barbecued lamb or chicken.
Make a caramel sauce by adding two parts cold cream to one part caramel, made by boiling sugar and a little water together until dark golden brown. (Be careful adding the cream to the hot caramel, it will spit. Put the caramel pot in the sink.) Place back over gentle heat and stir to melt the lumps. Remove and cool. Serve with extra whipped cream over sticky bought gingerbread and unpeeled bananas placed on a hot barbecue or in a hot oven until they burst.
Slow-fry lots of finely chopped onion, diced bacon, finely diced carrots, thinly sliced celery, garlic, pitted kalamata olives and a pinch of chilli flakes until the onion is soft. Add a big splash dry white wine and let it bubble for 30 seconds then add well boiled, squeezed dry, sliced curly kale, silverbeet and/or spinach and cream to cover. Boil until reduced and thickened, and serve tossed with al dente pasta and lots of parmesan.