mikado opening

Homemade Mikado Biscuits

mikado 1

I have been on a bit of a biscuit roll recently (if you’ll pardon the pun) and rediscovering all kinds of childhood tastes. I blame that re-run of Nigel Slater’s biscuit programme because it’s certainly not just a desire to cram biscuits into my mouth. Oh no.

I loved making the fig rolls and I loved revisiting the Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Cream jingle of childhood in my research for it, but honestly didn’t think anymore of it, especially since I was never quite sure which biscuit was which and preferred to say it as it’s all one word. I half thought of looking out for a packet of them if I was in an Asda soon with their weird ‘ethnic Irish’ grocery section.

My attention was actually all about the homemade teacake. I had heard about the rose infused version at Restaurant Story in Bermondsey recently and it got me thinking about playing around with having a go at something similar when some friends came for midsummer afternoon tea.

I’ve had this fantastic sounding recipe for teacakes from the ever wonderful The Little Loaf in my ‘to make’ folder for ages and thought I’d adapt it to make rose marshmallows again and spread the biscuit with rose petal jam. They sounded like they’d go well with a little Pimms on the patio in fact.

I started by baking the biscuits. Except I didn’t have any wholemeal flour, just some leftover buckwheat flour from the galette in Recipes from Brixton Village. Then I realised the rosewater for the marshmallows was three years out of date and smelt like a Woolworths bath and body gift set. It was time to use the random bottle of Polish raspberry syrup I’d impulse purchased a few weeks ago to see if I could add flavour and colour that way.

Raspberry and rose go beautifully so I still needed that rose petal jam: the rose petal jam that I forgot I’d eaten earlier this year and of course couldn’t be found without some time travel. Luckily I had some emergency raspberry jam on the shelf and it would look like it was intentional.

Massive amounts of improvisation later, I was ready to start assembling the teacakes. I spread the jam on the biscuits, splodged on the marshmallow and realised that on a very warm day the jam made it all so slippy I would never be able to coat them with chocolate without disaster. I was just about to give up on the whole endeavour when I realised that with a sprinkle of desiccated coconut I had accidentally created a homemade Mikado and saved the day…

Homemade Mini Mikado Biscuits (adapted from the Little Loaf)

Makes approx 60 bite sized biccies

  • 100g buckwheat or spelt flour
  • 50g rice or plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 50g sugar
  • 50g cold butter
  • 30ml buttermilk
  • 1 large egg white
  • 50g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 4 tablespoons raspberry syrup or 75ml raspberry juice and 75g sugar
  • 4 tablespoons raspberry jam (seedless is best)
  • 2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

Start by making the biscuits. Sift the two flours into a large bowl and add the baking powder and sugar. Stir it all well together. Rub the cold butter into it all until it forms what looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the buttermilk a teaspoon at a time. The dough will come together without being sticky.

Using the palms of your hands, form it into a loose ball and squash it flat into some clingfilm. Wrap tightly and chill overnight or for at least 6 hours.

Heat the oven to 170℃ and roll the biscuit dough out on a floured surface until it is about 1cm thick. Cut out little bite sized biscuits out with the top of a small jar or champagne flute. Lay on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 12 minutes. I don’t like my biscuits too crisp for this kind of thing myself.

Allow the biscuits to cool while you make the marshmallow. This is the kind of marshmallow you get in big pots called Marshmallow Fluff and for me it never sets to make the solid kind you toast, but is perfect for this kind of thing.

Set a large bowl over a pan of boiling water and melt the sugar and golden syrup together. Using an electric whisk, beat the egg white into it all and keep beating it all over the heat for 6 minutes. Add in the raspberry syrup. I used bottle stuff but make a quick version with the raspberry juice from squashed berries and sugar boiled together to make a thick syrup if you don’t have a crazy Polish drinks aisle near you. Beat it all together for another 2 minutes and remove from the heat to cool.

Put the cooled marshmallow into a piping bag. Do check to see if you have actually have a piping bag first unlike me who had to do the freezer bag trick instead. Spread a tiny blob of raspberry jam on each biscuit and pipe a puff of marshmallow on top. Yours will look prettier than mine I promise. Sprinkle the marshmallow with a scant amount of coconut and if you’re trying to hide the badly piped nipple-like marshmallow you’ve just done, add some edible glitter too.

Leave the biscuits to set for at least two hours before eating and then line them up on a plate to make what looks like one enormous Mikado and inhale them one after the other. Wearing a headscarf and housecoat is of course optional for most people but basically how I always dress when I’m cooking since you can only take the girl out of Belfast….

PS: I’m now on Instagram. Come and say hello!

 

biscuits

A Savoury Cream Tea

biscuitsConfession time. I don’t have any opinions on the cream tea at all. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it, I’ll eat it if it’s there. I really don’t care if you put the jam first or the cream first. My only rule is don’t put raisins in your scones. No one likes raisins in scones.

However I do like other things in scones. Cafe Renoir in Belfast (the one in Queen’s Street was a beloved day time hangout of mine when I was a teenager ) is the spiritual home of scone and offered up some great takes on them. I loved their pineapple and coconut ones and may have stampeded the queue when they had the white chocolate and raspberry ones. I also make treacle and ginger soda bread scones quite often at home. I am not a scone purist at all. In fact I find the plain scone a little, well, dull sometimes.

The problem with the plain scone is that they need to not just be nice, they need to be excellent. I can’t make them to save my life, churning out leaden lumps that set your teeth on edge with baking powder. I lack the light hand to make fluffy golden topped scones that people ooh and ahh over. I’ve tried and neither Delia nor the wife of a Northern Irish minister who has made thousands of scones for the church over the years have been able to set me on the right path.

So I’ve given up and turned my attention to the American biscuit instead. More savoury than a scone and often made to be flaky rather than fluffy, something about them appeals to me more for making at home than scones. I’ve tried a version that simply involved double cream and flour that were more like fudge than anything else and worked my way through those involving lard instead of butter and they’ve been good, but not great.

Then I came across this recipe from a woman in Tennessee with 5 stars reviews across the board (unheard of on the internet) and 17 tips to help make your biscuits great and the savoury cream tea was born. I topped these flaky biscuits with chorizo jam and thyme creme fraiche and suddenly I have many many opinions of cream teas again…

chorizo jamSlow Cooker Chorizo Jam (makes 5 x 300ml jars)

(Loosely inspired by Eat Like a Girl‘s dedication to meat jams)

  • 1 large white onion, finely diced
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 500g cooking chorizo (or 250g chorizo and 250g streaky bacon)
  • 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 1 tablespoon brown miso
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 150ml apple juice
  • 60ml red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1/4 white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon pul biber/Aleppo pepper (smoked Turkish chilli flakes)

This is the easiest thing in the world to make, which is a blessing since people are going to ask you for jars of it quite frequently. I imagine you can make it in a low oven of around 120℃ for about 4 hours, but you’ll need to check the liquid levels as it cooks to make sure it doesn’t cook dry. But since I am all about the slow cookers these days, I’ve barely remembered how to turn my oven on….

The chorizo jam is best made with soft cooking chorizo which is raw rather than the hard cured kind. I got mine at Brindisa but most of the big supermarkets will stock it. You could use the dried cured kind, but add about 75ml more apple juice to help it soften up.

The base of the jam is made with soft sweet caramelised onion to bring it all together and create a sticky jammy texture. Raw or barely cooked onion doesn’t work well here so don’t skip the first stage of the recipe.

Finely dice the onion to about 1cm dice and add to the slow cooker with the butter. Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook the onion on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours. The slow cooker makes the best caramelised onions you can imagine so I quite often spent 20 minutes slicing or dicing a kilo or two of them and doing a massive batch. I then freeze portions or keep them in a sterilised jar in the fridge for up to a month and add them to dishes as needed.

Once the onion is caramelised, cut the chorizo into 1-1.5cm pieces and add to the slow cooker crock. The bacon should be thin strips if using. Add all the other ingredients and stir it all together well. I find adding them with the liquid in the middle helps bring it all together  more easily.

Pop the lid on the slow cooker and cook it all together on low for 8-9 hours. I did mine overnight and when I woke up the house smelled wonderful. I then sterilised some jars in the oven and bottled it. Keep in the fridge for up to four weeks.

While you are making the chorizo jam, multi task with making the crème fraîche as well. It takes about 18 hours to be ready, but requires very little actual effort. Making it from scratch allows you to customise it by infusing it with the flavours you like. It would be wonderful with rosemary or sage or garlic for a savoury version or with rose, lavender or lapsang souchong for a sweet version. Simply substitute the equivalent amount of thyme for the flavour of your choice.

creme fraiche

Homemade Thyme Crème Fraîche (makes 300ml)

  • 300ml double cream
  • 2 tablespoons dried or fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk or sour cream

Put the double cream in a small saucepan and add the thyme (or flavouring of your choice) and gently heat the cream to 71℃ exactly. You will need a thermometer for this. Do not heat the cream higher than this heat. 71℃ is the magic number to activate cream or milk to thicken (or develop into cheese) and is sometimes known as ‘clabbering’ it. Some argue this is only the correct term if you are using raw unpastuerised milk, but since few words suit my Belfast accent better, I will continue to use it even if inauthentic.

Take the pan off the heat immediately and allow the cream to cool to 40℃. This will take around an hour and allows the thyme to infuse beautifully.

Wash out a glass jar in the hottest water you can handle and don’t dry it. Strain the cream through a sieve into it, leaving the thyme behind. Add the 2 tablespoons of buttermilk or sour cream and stir well. This ‘inoculates’ the cream and introduces the culture needed to turn from cream to crème fraîche. It is similar to the process of making yoghurt and both allow dairy products to last longer without spoiling.

Loosely cover the jar with its lid and then set it somewhere nice and warm to thicken up. I left mine right by the slow cooker that was making my chorizo jam as it gives out a nice waft of warmth. It will take about 12-14 hours to become a thick creamy texture that will hold the mark of the back of a spoon run through it. At this point, chill it for 4 hours to thicken up completely. Store in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.

Serve the chorizo jam and thyme crème fraîche on freshly baked biscuits you’ve split open. Your choice as to which you dollop onto the biscuit first. I’m not going near that controversy unless I’ve served an entire bottle of cava with my savoury cream tea and am too well refreshed to notice!

Snails

Slow Cooked Giant African Land Snails

SnailsI was a weird kid. Cutely weird, rather than scary weird, and few habits of mine were weirder than my obsession with snails. Something about these slow shelled creatures fascinated me and I collected anything to do with them from live one from the garden to the snail shaped sponge that turned out to be a seahorse on its side…

The fascination reached its peak when I got myself a pet Giant African Land Snail through the post when I was about twelve. Snails of all kinds are haemphrodites and when everything aligns right, they make babies in the kind of numbers that make rabbits look slow to breed. Some woman on’t telly had an African Land Snail that has so many offspring she was desperate to offload a few.

Postal order for P&P paid and enough months later to have forgotten about the Crazy Snail Lady, the postman rang the bell and handed me a baby formula tin marked ‘snails in transit’. Once the snail mail jokes had subsided, I opened it and looked for the mollusc inside. Nestled right in the bottom of the tin, amongst the wet kitchen roll, was a snail the size of my little fingernail.

Immediately christening it Pumpkin in honour of it being Hallowe’en when it arrived, it was whisked off to live in a peat filled fish tank in the bathroom. It was a snail’s life hanging out on a flowerpot or a piece of cuttlefish, absorbing some cucumber and porridge oats and squelching around slimily in the middle of the night. For several years I adored it even though you definitely can’t cuddle a snail and it does very little. Then I realised I was about to leave home for uni and and had no desire to take it with me. A ad went in the local vet’s waiting room and a few months later that now not so small snail went to live with some local little boys, and I presume some puppy dog tails.

pumpkin the snailI didn’t think much about snails again until I moved to Brixton when I saw baskets of African Land Snails in the market for eating. Some people were oddly sentimental about them, setting up a protest group in their honour and rightly having some concern about how the snails are kept, often handling them rather unhygiencally themselves. Most people however buy them for dinner and don’t give much thought to their welfare.

My thoughts turned to them when I started writing Recipes from Brixton Village. They are one of the things people associate with the market and it seemed right that the book had a recipe for them. I asked several of the Nigerian traders if they would be keen to do so, but none were. I was going to have to do it myself.

I nipped into Vivo Afro Caribbean foods and asked for snails. They all tittered at the crazy white girl as they brought three out from the back, expecting me to recoil at the size of them. I explained I knew them well as I’d had one as a pet and waited while they wiped away tears of mirth before getting a bag of alum to go with them for cleaning them. I then gulped at the fact they were three for a tenner and took them home.

Already nervous about actively killing my first creature for dinner myself, I kept them in the fridge overnight so they wouldn’t come out of their shell. I then scrubbed their shells clean, rinsed them under the tap and took them out to the patio and laid them out to break the shells.

Bearing in mind I am still soppy enough about snails that I avoid walking on them on rain soaked paths and take them on long walks from my garden, it took quite some psyching myself up to do the deed. In fact, it took a large sherry, about 40 minutes of mental preparation and repeated checking that my neighbours couldn’t see me with three giant snails, a pair of rubber gloves and a pestle and mortar.

Eventually I plucked up the courage to crack the shells, giving one a bloody great wallop with my stone pestle. The shell rocked slightly and nothing happened. I whacked it again and again before I lost my nerve and finally the shell shattered. It felt brutal and slightly traumatising for me, so I dread to think what the snail thought.

Following Kitchen Butterfly’s directions, I carefully pulled the shell away from the inner foot. Those things are razor sharp which accounts for the Marigolds. Pausing to look at how the snail’s quivering grey innards are neatly rolled up inside the shell, I cut this sac away from the foot, killing the snail.

snail guts 2I eat meat. I eat quite a lot of meat and I’m not especially squeamish. This simple cut challenged all my feelings and principles about eating animals in one flick of a knife. I know they say you should never eat your dinner if you can’t kill it first, but something about this felt so strange to a city girl who has never caught a fish or trapped a rabbit. I felt a surprising amount of guilt over an invertebrate. And I had two more to kill…

I brought my three snails inside and cut down the foot to butterfly them. Turning the radio to some Dolly Parton and the tap to cold, I scrubbed the snails with the alum rocks to loosen the slime. And there was a lot of slime. I kept the Marigolds on and still I got a sense of what it must be like to have been gunged on kids’ TV in the 80s. Each one took a good 20 minutes scrubbing to get them fairly clean.

I soaked them in cold water while I raided the sherry bottle further and texted my editor to tell her what I was doing. When I looked, there was more slime. I scrubbed further bent over the sink trying to fathom how my Sunday afternoon had come to this and deciding it was still more fun as a job than working in Selfridges was.

Eventually the snails were spotless and slime free. Two went into the pot to braise for two hours as per the recipe in the book. The third went into the slow cooker to simmer in stock for eight hours.

I finished the stove braised snails off as the recipe in the books suggests and still reeling from the experience, lured two friends round with the promise of Brixton Brewery IPA. We each ate a small piece and struggled with the cartilege like texture, preferring to get stuck into the beer. Their 19 month old daughter however loved them, going back for more to the point where she had to be stopped for fear she’d spoil her dinner.

After they went home and I’d swept up all the shards of shell, I tried the third snail and found the texture much improved by such a long cooking in liquid. Still not exactly tender, it was much more like my Western palate is used to and with lots of chilli and pomegranate molasses, it was edible.

I didn’t suffer any indigestion or ill effects from eating the snails, but I dreamt of huge steam train sized snails chasing me as I slept. They weren’t angry with me for killing and cooking their cousins, just disappointed in me. Who knew a gently waving feeler could contain so many emotions? If I hadn’t known it before I started the recipe, I knew it now: snails neither make good pets or entrees in my life, just lovely illustrations instead.

Kaylene snail unframed

PS: don’t forget to vote for Recipes from Brixton Village as Best New Cookbook in the Observer Food Monthly Awards. Do it in memory of the molluscs…

 

Lamb and lentil soup

Spiced Lamb, Lentil and Tomato Soup

Lamb and lentil soup

Every summer I buy lamb mince with the intention of making kofte with it and every summer I panic and decide that kofte are incredibly difficult to make and I’ll ruin them*. I find myself looking at a bag of lamb mince slightly nervously and then I just make meatballs. Again.

This time I happened to have been flicking through Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe and had seen a soup involving lamb mince and lentils and thought I could finally branch out of my meatball rut.

Unfortunately I went out and drank a couple of glasses of red wine before coming home to cook it for dinner and failed to notice that Silvena’s recipe was actually for rice, lamb and lentil soup until I had a third glass of wine and couldn’t be bothered to follow the recipe. I took inspiration at that stage from Keith Floyd and went for just making it up as I went along. The result was bowls that were scraped clean and no hangover from the wine either. That’s quite a soup.

Spiced Lamb, Lentil and Tomato Soup (serves 4)

  • 400g minced lamb
  • 1 teaspoon onion seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon kirmizi pul biber or smoked chilli flakes
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 200g red lentils
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh mint to serve

This is a very easy soup to make. Start by heating a dry frying pan on a medium heat and add the onion and cumin seeds. Allow to fry until they start to smell aromatic. It should take about 30-45 seconds. Watch them with an eagle eye or they burn and become bitter. Tip out of the pan onto a clean plate.

Return the pan to the heat and add the lamb mince. Fry it off until the fat starts to come out of it and then add the toasted seeds back in along with the paprika and pul biber. Stir it all well and cook through completely. It should take about 10 minutes.

Remove the cooked lamb from the pan and using the fat from the lamb which is now infused with the lovely spices, sweat the onion and garlic over a low heat until they becomes translucent. This will take about 12 minutes.

While the onions and garlic do their thing, boil the lentils for about 10 minutes in salted water. Drain them once they start to look softened and return them to a large pan. Stir the lamb and sweated onion and garlic through it all and then season well. Red lentils need a generous hand with the salt cellar for me.

Tip the chopped tomatoes into it all and stir well. Add the chicken stock and simmer it all for 25 minutes until the lentils swell up and the soup thickens. Keep an eye to make sure the lentils don’t burn or start to boil dry. They have a habit of that if left to their own devices. You might need a slug or two more of stock.

Serve the soup in deep bowls. Chopped fresh mint scattered on top and stirred through as you serve complements the smoky spicy flavours of the dish perfectly.

I loved this soup. Easy, flavoursome and incredibly filling, it makes the lamb go a long way and made a real change from my usual lentil based soups which tend to be a little worthy for my real enjoyment. Lots of flavour is obviously what I was missing up until now!

 

 

 

 

cashew blondies

Cashew Nut Blondies

cashew blondiesAs I might have mentioned, I’ve been quite busy recently which has lead to the slightly bizarre scenario of being a food writer without the time to cook anything. What I needed was something low maintenance, very easy and with tonnes of impact for very little effort.

Oddly enough I found the answer to this quest in a disappointing jar of cashew butter. Since I’ve been lusting after some Keen nut butters for ages but unable to get them easily in South London, I impulse purchased a jar of the new Sun-Pat cashew butter instead.

I should have held out for the good stuff because this cashew and peanut blend was awful. Flavourless, limp and claggy, I couldn’t even eat the slice of toast I’d put it on as midnight snack. Staring blankly at a whole jar of the stuff, I took to Twitter to vent and some bright spark suggesting baking with it to rescue it.

I originally thought I’d make cookies like these but then I happened to be perusing one of my favourite sites Post Punk Kitchen and saw a recipe for peanut butter blondies and knew I had my answer. I love Isa’s recipes even if I tend to de-veganise them as I have here and adapted them in other ways.

Spiced Cashew Nut Blondies (makes about 12 medium size blondies)

  •  150g cashew nuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon mace
  • 175g cashew nut butter or peanut butter
  • 50ml vegetable oil
  • 175g brown sugar
  • 50ml milk (non dairy milk works well too)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 250g plain flour (use a gluten free one if needed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Begin by taking some roasted salted cashew nuts and chopping them roughly so that each nut is in about thirds. You want a bit of bite. Melt the sugar and the water together in a small pan and add the spices. Stir it all well and allow to become a thick dark syrup. Toss the cashew nuts in the syrup and lay in a single layer on a baking tray. Roast for about 15 minutes at 200℃.

In a large bowl, mix the cashew nut butter and the oil together into a thick paste. Beat the sugar into it all. Add the milk and the vanilla. It will be quite runny. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into the nut and sugar mix.

Stir it all well. It will combine easily into a ball that comes away from the edges of the bowl cleanly. Line a 9 inch square tin with baking liner or greaseproof paper. Tip the roasted spiced cashews into the dough and carefully mix them through lightly. Spoon the dough into the tin and flatten it out with the back of a fork.

Turn the oven down to 175℃. Bake the blondies for about 20-22 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. The centre should still be soft. Allow the blondies to cool completely in the tin and then cut into 12 squares.

These kept for almost a week in an airtight container and were a fantastic quick snack when I didn’t have time to do more than just grab something with a cuppa. The cashew nut butter wasn’t completely rescued by this as the taste was still a bit thin, but the texture was fantastic and I’d make them again with a decent peanut or cashew butter anytime. I might even re-veganise them too…