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 Then I realised the rosewater for the marshmallows was three years out of date and smelt like a Woolworths bath and body gift set.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!

 

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Recipes from Brixton Village book launch

_NTI8538I’ve been a bit quiet recently because Recipes from Brixton Village launched last Thursday May 22nd and everything has been full on in that time. The book has been incredibly well received and at the time of writing is No. 1 on Amazon in their Restaurant Cookbook category! Thank you to everyone who has bought it, tweeted about it, told their friends about it and supported me with it. I couldn’t have done it without you all and of course the traders of Brixton Village. They have been absolutely fantastic and their enthusiasm about the book is infectious. We had a fantastic launch party on May 22nd at Studio 73 in the Village and the book sold like hot cakes, going even faster than the codfish fritters from Fish Wings and Tings, black olive doughnuts from Casa Sibilla and daikon and chilli dip from Okan did! We did justice to a keg of Brixton Brewery American Pale Ale,  some gluten-free Celia lager courtesy of Vozars and some of Brian’s home-made ginger beer…and spilled out into 1st Avenue dwarfing the Honest Burger queue for once.

Many thanks to Adrian at Studio 73 for allowing us to take over his shop and for hosting our illustrator Kaylene Alder’s exhibition. If you missed it you can still buy prints from the book from her website. And massive thanks to all the traders who supplied food and drinks too. _NTI8533 I’m delighted to share some of the photos from the evening with you if you weren’t able to make it. Sadly we don’t have any photos of the launch event with Herne Hill Books on May 25th as I was too busy selling books, chatting to Jay Rayner and encouraging people to try the excellent cupcakes from Sponge and Cream we celebrated it all with. If you are in Brixton this weekend, you can find Kaylene and me at the Big Lunch in Brixton Village at the Coldharbour Lane entrance from 11am-4pm. Kaylene is setting up an art trail for the kids and I’m running a small quiz to see how well you’ve all read the book!There’s also the charity lunch to raise money for Brixton Soup Kitchen. I’ll be selling and signing books as well along with the Brixton Blog team. And then on Monday night, I’m fighting any nerves about public speaking to read at the Brixton Book Jam at the Hootenanny on Effra Road. I should be making my author’s debut about 8.30pm so come along for a beer and some book chat. I might be selling books but if previous events are anything to go by, we’ll have sold out on Sunday! I’ll hopefully be popping up in Grazia Daily this week and we’re plotting all kinds of exciting events over the summer, including a little something at Lambeth Country Show. It’s quite the whirlwind of events but it’s been fantastic meeting people and just talking Brixton non stop! Definitely my dream job.

Don’t forget you can still buy books with free UK P&P direct from the Kitchen Press website or for international shipping at Amazon. Don’t forget to leave a review there to tell us how much you enjoyed the book or the recipes you cooked! Signed copies can be ordered from the Brixton Blog shop too. And if you come down to Brixton Village this weekend, you can buy the book direct from the traders and chat to them about their input. It’s also in stock at 20 Storey in Market Row along with a selection of other Brixton authors’ books and the famous I ♥︎ Brixton mugs. We really do have everything you could ever want in Brixton! _NTI8725

soup scallions and butter

Comfort Eating

soup scallions and butter

I’ve been having a very quiet couple of weeks. The flu found me just as I finished up the book and I’ve been forced to take to my bed with a pile of pillows and paracetamol. Being a delicate little flower healthwise, I take a long time to bounce back from these things. I had been planning a holiday from as much cooking as I’d been doing, but I’ve gone somewhat from the sublime to the ridiculous and all I want to eat is comfort food.

I know my body should probably be repairing itself with plates of lean meat, leafy green vegetables and a rainbow of fruit for the much needed vitamins. Aside from my first kiwi fruit in nigh on 20 years, I haven’t been craving those things, but wanting to eat biscuits and mountains of mashed potato instead. I’ve been disappointed to discover that pink wafers aren’t as nice as I remember but mashed potato hasn’t let me down.

Every Northern Irish kid grows up on piles of champ, that magical mix of scallions, mash and a crater of melted butter. It was essential to dip each mouthful in the butter but not let the butter pool break down the side of the spuds. Nothing makes me feel better than champ. The memory of a friend making it for me on a truly awful weekend not long after I’d moved to London still warms my soul now and it was the first meal I ever cooked in my new flat after being homeless. It reminds me of childhood and security and being loved. Growing up in the margarine obsessed 80s meant butter equalled true love.

A sickly child, I spent a lot of time recuperating and convalescing. Certain things always helped. My mum made me egg beaten up in a cup, the soft yolked egg mixed with broken up wheaten bread and more butter. It was easy to eat in all the ways that counted. Heinz tomato soup made an appearance. I’m not brand loyal to much but there’s only one type of tinned tomato soup for me. Speaking of butter, put a little blob of it on top of the soup and see it in a whole new light.

My other love was jelly. Something about its soft soothing wobble still comforts me even now. My aunt used to give me cubes of ‘raw’ jelly out of the packet on Sunday afternoon walks in lieu of modern day affectations like Haribo and I was always told it was good for your nails. Some thing about the gelatine strengthening them. I grew up to have beautifully shaped nails of steel that people often mistake for the expensive kind you buy, so maybe the old wives’ tale did have truth in it? I do know jelly was one of the things I missed profoundly when I was a vegetarian teenager.

I’ve been eating pots and pots of it recently and kicking myself I didn’t order ice cream in my Sainsbury’s shop to go with it. I thought the pay off from years of tonsilitis as a kid was the promised jelly and ice cream after the op when I finally had my tonsils removed. Few things have ever disappointed me more than being given a plastic bowl of Rice Krispies next morning instead. Snap, crackle and pain. Raspberry jelly and vanilla ice cream it was not.

You can keep your Phish Foods and Choco-loco-doodahs and fancy schmancy ice creams when I’m ill. Nothing cuts the mustard quite like a proper taste of raspberry ripple whether it comes cut in slices from a block or conjured up yourself with the jelly or frozen berries. My mum even had a Yardley lipstick that tasted of raspberry ripple when I was a kid and I suspect the fact lipstick doesn’t taste like that anymore is why I’ve never owned one, reserving my colour love for nail polish instead.

I’ll know I’m on the mend again when I want colour on my plate. I’ll be sticking with my mashed potato, steaming bowls of porridge and fluffy white rice in the meantime. Simple and easy to make when I lack energy, they taste homemade when there’s no one else to make them for me and of course, they can incorporate butter beautifully… What about you? What food comforts you when you feel ill or wearied by life? Does it matter who makes it or food just fuel when life is full of pressure?

PS: here’s a preview of Recipes from Brixton Village so take a trip to the market with this fabulous video and start counting down the days til May 22nd when you can get your copy!

fried porridge

Fried Porridge

fried porridgeI am probably constructed half and half from oats and potatoes if you consider my Scottish and Irish heritage. Childhood days started with oats in the form of porridge and ended with spuds for dinner very often. Both are still mainstays of my table even now.

Porridge is surprisingly controversial. People have strong feeling about the type of oat used, the ratio of water and milk and whether salt or sweet and they stick to their guns. I make mine with Flahavans oats if I can get them, using half milk and half water and I add a pinch of salt as the oats cook. This makes it all the right smooth consistency for me without being too creamy and the salt makes it taste much more intense. I then tend to eat mine plain or with some fruit on top if I’m feeling virtuous. Occasionally I have a little drizzle of golden syrup, but I have fairly simple tastes with my porridge.

Others however have magical porridge powers involving spurtles and things like steel cut or pinhead oats and take it all very seriously. They also mention something about a porridge drawer which I was reminded of recently when talking to Caitríona at Wholesome Ireland. This would have been a small section in a dresser where the leftover breakfast porridge was poured and allowed to cool and set before being cut into slices. Children ate when they came home from school or men took it as their ‘piece’ for lunch. A forerunner of the flapjack or the cereal bar basically.

Apparently the porridge drawer was common in both Ireland and Scotland, but I’ve never seen one or eaten from one. Curiosity piqued I asked my dad who grew up on the west coast of Scotland and he remembers the sliced ‘purritch’ being fried up in bacon fat or butter and served for dinner. I love the idea of being able to go savoury or sweet here but I’ve tempted go sweet as I had some leftover spiced butter from making hot buttered rum at Christmas. Read more

cornflake trio

Cornflake Tart

 

cornflak c-upMister North and I must be very rare specimens indeed because we went to a primary school that served excellent school dinners. The only thing I remember hating was the cabbage which they served minced and overcooked. Otherwise, I have very fond memories of eating lunch at school. There were proper hand cut twice cooked chips that I still dream about, Irish stew and of course, proper puddings with custard to match.

Most people liked the chocolate sponge and custard best, but my favourite was the cornflake pudding. A slab of crumbly pastry topped with red jam and sweet crunchy cornflakes on top, served with simple yellow custard. I last ate it when I was no more than 11 years old and I’ve spent years trying to track a recipe for it down. I’ve asked many people if they remembered it and in between triggering memories of Spam fritters, people have either rhapsodised about it or looked blank.

I was starting to think it was a Northern Irish thing when eventually I came across something about on Mumsnet and realised it was actually very simple to make and just the thing to use up some spare pastry. But would it taste the same or was I about to destroy a treasured childhood memory like the time I rewatched Button Moon and realised it was just an actual button?

Cornflake Tarts (makes 4 individual sized tarts)

For the pastry:

  • 175g plain flour
  • 45g cold cubed butter
  • 40g lard
  • 2-3 tablespoons cold water

For the topping:

  • 150g raspberry jam
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 25g sugar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 75g cornflakes

Start by making your pastry. I like the incredible shortness you get using half lard and half butter (plus it’s much cheaper too) but if you prefer, you can use all butter.

Put the flour in a large bowl and rub the lard and butter through it. I think I’ve mentioned before that my pastry always shrinks massively in the tin and some plaintive wailing about it to a friend, established that I was rubbing my fat into the flour too much and over working the pastry. So don’t be afraid to leave some lumps of fat in this instead of trying to get only tiny crumbs.

Add two tablespoons of ice cold water (I’ve also been using too much water because overworking the pastry had made it dry) and bring it all together neatly in a ball without too much fiddling and poking. Chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

When you are ready, roll it out and line the tart tins. I had 4 small ones but this will also do a 23cm tart tin nicely. Don’t trim all the pastry off the edges, but leave some overhang and then chill again for 15-20 minutes while the oven heats up to 180ºC.

Line the pastry with greaseproof paper and fill it with rice or dried beans and blind bake for 12 minutes. In the meantime, heat together the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan until it is all melted and runny. Put the cornflakes in a large bowl and pour the butter and syrup over them. Gently stir it through until they are all coated. Set aside.

Now put the jam into the same saucepan and warm it through too. I used some homemade stuff, but a decent shop bought one will do. Try not to use indeterminate ‘red jam’ like the school dinner version did. It’s better with a bit of flavour and texture.

Take the blind baked tarts out of the oven. Remove the baking beans or rice and prick the base of the pastry several times with a fork. Trim the edges of the tarts with a sharp knife and then spread the warmed jam over all the base of the tarts. Sprinkle the cornflake mixture over the top of the jam, making sure you don’t skimp.

Bake the tarts for another 8 minutes and then allow to cool for at least 10 minutes to give the cornflakes a proper crunch. You’ll probably want to serve this with a generous pouring of custard. I can’t help you here as custard is my nemesis and my most recent attempt at heating some fresh stuff from Sainsbury’s ended with me curdling it!

I ate my tarts just as they were and they tasted exactly like I remember, but actually slightly better for not being made with marge and cheap jam or washed down with tepid water in a metal beaker! I am now convinced Proust was really on about cornflake tart rather than madeleines…

What about you? Do you have a school dinner memory that’s surprisingly good or was it all crimes against food?