fig rollsLike many Irish people, I more associate biscuits with Jacob’s than McVities. This is a brand so Irish, it was even one of the places taken over in the 1916 Easter Rising as Ireland tried to break away from Britain and declare independence. Biscuits matter back home.

Jacob’s made all kinds of sweet treats when I was wee (it is now no longer an Irish company and cases are fought in court over the name.) Mister North and I could recite the Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Cream jingle in our sleep, but most of all Jacob’s was associated with Fig Rolls.

They came in an orange packet in those days and our mum was rather fond of them so we always had some in the biscuit tin. I loved them because no one ever commits the disgusting depraved act of dunking a biscuit when they eat a Fig Roll. I have always wondered like the advert asked ‘how they get the figs in the fig rolls?’ and decided the time had come to find out.

Partly inspired by a Greek Fig Pie our dad sent me recently with its spiced fig filling and sesame seed outer and partly by this recipe on the fabulous Food 52, I decided to try baking my own and see if I could have a fig renaissance in my life. The one drawback of a Fig Roll is that they are teeth-itchingly sweet so I added some frozen raspberries to the fig mix to add a little tang.

And to prove I’m a grown up instead of a biscuit tin raiding child, I added a little tarragon to the raspberries as they are perfect bedfellows. In fact the most memorable cocktail I’ve ever drunk involved fresh raspberries and tarragon and gin and I’ve been borderline obsessed with this combo ever since. Told you I was a grown up now…

Fig, Raspberry and Tarragon Rolls: adapted from Food 52 (makes about 40)

For the dough:

  • 75g room temperature butter
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 250g dried figs
  • 300ml boiling water
  • 200g fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 5g fresh tarragon

The dough is best used after chilling overnight so prepare it in advance. It will keep for about 10 days in the fridge if you get sidetracked mid recipe like I did.

Beat the butter and the sugar together with an electric whisk until they are very light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes. Add the egg and the vanilla extract and beat until loose and smooth.

Stir the flour and baking powder into this mixture until just combined. It’s a soft almost loose biscuit dough so handle it carefully. Roll into a ball, flatten into a disc and wrap in clingfilm. Chill for at least 6 hours or overnight.

About an hour before you want to make the fig rolls, chop your dried figs into small pieces. I cut each one into six. Put them in a pan with the boiling water and bring to the boil. Simmer until they are soft and plumped up. They should have absorbed all the water. Keep an eye on them as they are thirsty wee things and you might need to top the pan up again.

When they look like they have absorbed as much water as they can without falling apart, take them off the heat and blend well with a stick blender. You will end up with a very smooth pale purple paste. Set aside to cool.

If you are using frozen raspberries, allow them to drain well into a bowl at this stage. If you are using fresh ones, squash them lightly with the stick blender. Chop the tarragon roughly, add to the berries and set aside until the figs are cool.

Combine the figs and the raspberries and then spoon the fruit into a icing bag. They are ferociously sticky so don’t overfill it.

Take the dough out of the fridge and cut the disc into four. Keep one out and return the rest to the fridge. Flour your surface and roll the dough out into a long rectangle about 4 inches by 10. Knock the sides into an even shape with the rolling pin. The dough is fragile and might crack. I sacrificed the very ends rather than push my luck.

Using the icing bag, squeeze four stripes of fig and raspberry paste onto your dough and then fold the sides over. Wet it slightly to allow the top the layer to stick. Cut this fig filled sausage into 1.5 inch pieces and set on a lined baking tray. Repeat with the other three pieces.

Bake the fig rolls in a 175℃ oven for 14-16 minutes. The dough should be golden on the edges but not the top. Take them out of the oven and immediately put the piping hot biscuits in a large Ziploc bag and seal it up. This steams them and keeps them soft like a proper fig roll. I often do this with soda bread too and it works a treat to keep the crust smooth and soft.

When the fig rolls are steamed and cooled, serve with a cup of tea. The remaining biscuits will keep up to 10 days in a tin. The filling in them is lovely. Much more generous than Jacob’s ever was and not as sweet. The dough tastes exactly like the bought ones and they are even easier inhale alongside your cuppa with their soft texture. Much more fun than just opening a packet!

 

 

 

 

 

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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…

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

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Cashew Nut Blondies

by Miss South on June 8, 2014

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…

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_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 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

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