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Fig, Raspberry and Tarragon Rolls

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Rarebit

toast

Like everyone else in the UK I am absolutely desperate for spring to arrive. These grey skies, raw winds, bare trees and frozen crocuses are getting to me. There are two options: buy a lightbox or start adding spring flavours into my food despite the fact the view suggests it is January. One of my favourite fresh light flavours is tarragon. I adore this herb even if I cannot for the life of me get it to grow for me. The slightly liquorice, slightly aniseed taste is probably my favourite fresh herb and bunches of it from the deli are my indulgence. It works beautifully with chicken or fish or eggs, making very versatile.

However there is no finer use for tarragon than Béarnaise sauce. Sharpened with a pucker of vinegar and poured heartily over anything, but preferably steak, I adore the stuff. I made some on Saturday night and was faced with the greatest of middle class dilemmas. Should I reduce the recipe to one egg yolk and run out or go with all three and eat it all week? You can probably guess the answer.

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Polishing off Polish Pierogi…

Several things are guaranteed to bring a tear to my eye: the episode of ER where Mr Mark Greene dies, posters for lost stuffed animals and family pets and the thought of ever having to go low carb and stop eating potatoes.

I really don’t care how big an Irish cliche I am. I love spuds with all my soul. What other foodstuff is so versatile, so easy to work with and to grow yourself? There is just no thing as too many potatoes in my life and that is why I love pierogi so much. A dumpling stuffed with mashed potato? Hello there! Dumpling is the magic word in my world, especially when you can fry them in butter to add even more of my favourite things to one dish.

There are as many recipes for pierogi as there are types of spuds and Polish families, but I used this one from Post Punk Kitchen as I wanted a dairy free recipe for a friend with intolerances. (I find specifically dairy free sites seems to rely heavily on soy or nut ‘milk’ based products and I would sooner die than use soy cheese. Vegan sites tend to seek other options and skip the processed stuff most of the time so I prefer them.)

I cannot pretend to have solved the eternal dilemma of translating American potato recipes to our varieties and found a total replacement for Yukon Golds, but find that if all else fails, a Maris Piper is the answer, although I used the last of my own Pink Fir Apples from the veg patch. I also won’t lie to you. This recipe is time consuming, but actually very easy to make. So stick Radio 4 on, roll up your sleeves and get pottering in the kitchen this weekend.

First up, choose your filling. Pierogi can be stuffed with anything. You can do some with spud and some with just about anything of your choosing. Sauerkraut is popular. I fancied pumpkin and sage to be seasonal. Black pudding would be brilliant. But feel free to use anything you desire. Leftovers would be perfect here. I went for sauteed mushroom with tarragon and mashed potato. Just cook as you normally would, but make your spuds are nice and dry before you mash them.

Once the filling is decided on, you’ll need to get going with the dough. This is dead easy. An American cup is approximately 240ml which equates to about 110g of flour, but if you’ve got measuring cups, stick to those. I used plain flour here and needed to add all three full cups of flour to stop the dough being too sticky to get out of the bowl. I added another two or three handfuls to it as I was kneading too.

After about ten minutes of kneading, the dough will be smooth as anything and lovely and elastic. This requires little skill, just some concentration and a bit of time. At this point, you can either store the dough overnight covered in the fridge until needed or get on with making dumplings.

Flour the surface and dough well and roll it out as thin as possible. Mine needed to be a tad thinner than they were, but I still got 45 pierogi out of them so be prepared to have an invasion of dumplings! Cut out circles of dough with a cutter or glass and then get filling. I put about a dessertspoonful of mushroom and potato in each one, brushed the edges with water and pinched shut, making sure the ends are nicely closed. That’s it. Super simple. Easy enough for little hands to do too.

Once I’d cut, filled and pinched half the dough, I boiled six or so pierogi in a big pot of water for about four minutes or til they float. You can served them simply boiled or you can take it up a notch by frying them off for a golden crunch. Drain them onto kitchen towel if you’re doing that and then pop into a pan of hot fat. While they fry, deal with the other half of the dough. I used up the full 500g of spuds I mashed and half a punnet of chestnut mushrooms to fill all of them, but could have done with twice the amount of fungi.

Once your dumplings are fried, pop in the oven to keep warm and keep going in batches until you’re ready to eat. I served for dinner, sprinkled with truffle salt and fresh tarragon to keep them simple but dairy free, although they’d be great with sour cream too. The other half went onto lined baking tray to cool and go into the freezer until needed.

So after all that time and pinching, were the pierogi worth it? Oh yes! With bells on. Surprisingly light dough with the smoothest creamiest mashed potato possible, despite not a drop of butter, oil or milk in it, all made better by frying them off. I managed 9 of them before passing out in a carb coma, but managed to go back for more for dinner the next night, adding some pan fried breadcrumbs for extra crunch.

A super easy, surprisingly relaxing recipe to make, I urge you to get your dumpling on as soon as. You’ll have a great meal that will impress anyone straightaway and enough to do several quick dinners when you can’t be bothered to cook another night. Dumplings don’t get better than this!

A tail of pork pie…

After our all too brief dalliance with summer, autumn is upon us once more. Some might moan, but it’s my favourite time of the year. Crisp sunny days, scuffly crunchy leaves, purple tinged sunsets, the smell of bonfires and an excuse to indulge in a few more carbs. Have I converted you yet?

I decided to take advantage of this first really cold snap this week with a pie for dinner. What could be better than lots of seasonal ingredients topped with flaky puff pastry? What about accessorising the whole thing with a boar’s tail and beating Fergus Henderson at his own game? Not so much cow pie as pig tail pie…

I got the tail at the stall* in Brixton Farmers’ Market for the bargain price of a pound and couldn’t resist its curly charms, especially since there’s a fair bit of meat on one. You can also get them smoked at the Colombian butcher in Brixton Village.

To fill my pie, I used diced pork leg as I couldn’t stretch to wild boar this time. For a seasonal sensation, I added shallot, leek and some seasonal mushrooms, all sweated off in butter and coated in flour and bathed in Henney’s Herefordshire cider before simmering it all for 40 minutes on a low heat. When it thickened up, I added fresh tarragon, a pinch of mace and a good grind of black pepper. Like all the best pie fillings, it can be prepped in advance and then given a lovely lid when needed.

My lovely lid came courtesy of Jus-Rol. I wanted to do puff pastry and with butter the price it is, I did not feel inclined to experiment. Instead I failed to read the instructions for use properly and ended up having to defrost one sheet in the microwave. This was a bad idea. It ended up brittle and with greasy patches. I had to use the other sheet instead and allow it to come to room temperature naturally. Feeling deflated that I could mess up bought pastry, I turned attention to the tail.

I wanted it to partly inside the pie to cook the meat and allow the bone to infuse the gravy. This is surprisingly difficult. Pig’s tails are incredibly flexible and not especially easy to position. I put the pastry lid on the pie and slit it open to wedge the tail inside. This took longer than I thought and led to an interesting moment where I stopped while holding a floppy tail in one hand and wondered how exactly my life turned out this way…

Eventually with some ingenious overlaid pastry stars holding the tail in place, the pie went in the oven at 220C for about 40 minutes. I peered in after 30 or so and marvelled at how much it really had puffed up. It also smelled tremendous. I boiled some spuds and did some peas to go on the side and rushed to get at it.

The tail had crisped up at the very very end and the meat inside was nicely cooked. It might be better to skin it first as there was quite a lot of slightly flabby skin to wade through, but it was surprisingly tasty to gnaw on and it had added a meaty kick to the pie filling. Pork leg wouldn’t be my first choice of cut usually, but it softened up nicely and was delicious. The cider and tarragon worked well and the pastry was great. I had two helpings straightaway (and forgot the peas both times!)

If you can get hold of a tail or two, try not to be put off by the cute factor. It’s a tasty thing perfect for a bit of stock or to make people’s eyes open wide when you serve this pie. I just wish I’d gone the whole hog and bought a snout in the market too…

*I’m really sorry, but I cannot remember the name of the boar people at all, but they are there every week and super helpful and very friendly.

Gardeners’ Delight

After a freakishly chilly May, I have finally got everything planted in my little garden (despite the person who stole a bag of soil from me. What kind of person steals dirt?). I am now impatiently awaiting the appearance of tender green shoots like an eager child…

As I had previously mentioned this is my third year growing my own and with my confidence growing, I am hoping my crop will too! Things took on a life of their own slightly when I managed to get hold of some raised beds fairly cheaply online, expanding my growing space hugely and unexpectedly. Getting hold of soil online proved a bit tricky, but the beds were soon ready to go.

Raised beds

A trip to the amazing garden centre at RHS Wisley led to a rather large credit card bill and some new finds for the garden. I will be experimenting with Munchkin squash in the beds this year as well as hopefully bedding in some perennial Holsteiner Blut and Pink Champagne rhubarb beside the beds. As you may remember both Mister North and I are very fond of rhubarb so I have high hopes for this!

Wisley was also the source of several new herbs for the patio. I got my hands on a stunning tarragon plant, some beautiful marjoram and a fabulous oregano in a self composting pot. Along with the chervil, borage, lovage, sorrel, lemon basil, Thai basil and regular basil I have planted in pots, I think I might just have the best herb garden in Brixton! I’m really looking forward to cooking with some of these new herbs, plan to make litres of pesto and my Pimms will be enhanced beautifully by the borage!

herb-tastic

My little raised beds are home to beetroot, salad leaves, pak choi, gherkins, squash, curly kale, carrots and Swiss chard. I’m using a combination of seeds from Just Seed on Ebay, some swaps with friends and family and my freebies from the brilliant Dig in! at the BBC. I planted last week and seven days later, my pak choi and salad leaves are fantastic! My beetroot was a total washout last year, so I’m particularly excited for that…

I’ve gone for two types of potato this year; the sweet nutty Pink Fir Apple and the stunning looking Shetland Blue. Last year I had limited success with the Pink Fir Apples. I don’t think I planted them deep enough or banked them up well enough. So this year, I dug a trench for them both and buried them deep enough that neither squirrels or sun can damage them. I want to make chips with the whole Fir Apples for utter indulgence and the Blues will make the prettiest mash in all the land.

My tomatoes are less than two weeks in their pots and already showing fruit. I’m starting to think I may be some kind of tomato whisperer. Sadly I couldn’t get the amazing Cheriettes of Fire again this year, but I’ve got two Tumblers instead. These trailing plants are so easy to grow I’d recommend them to anyone with even the smallest amount of outside space, even a strong hanging basket. They just need regular watering and a bit of a feed and they crop like nobody’s business. I’ve also got a lovely Gardener’s Delight again and a heritage variety called Black Cherry because I’m a sucker for purple fruit and veg!

pots & planters

I’m also hoping to get some peas and beans going. I did buy runner bean plants at Homebase, but an unfortunate slug infestation means they have been eaten to shreds before even seeing a flowerbed. I hope to get some more this weekend, plus I plan to get my peas and mangetout underway. I’d like to fully grow the mangetout, but I think I’ll simply sprout the peas to feast on those sweet crunchy pea shoots that make a salad a sensation.

I also have several collapsible planters (supposedly for potatoes) on the patio for courgettes. I’ve planted two varieties this year, a striped Italian number and some yellow ones. I had fairly good success with my zucchini last year, but the globe type I planted seemed to run out of steam quite early and I only had about 8 in total. I’ve heard better things about the sort that resemble mini-marrows instead, so fingers crossed!

I’m hoping for a nice mixture of sun and rain this summer to get my money’s worth from the fruit and veg I’ve got going. Planting most stuff in beds or pots makes them quite easy to care for and hopefully I won’t spend all summer weeding! I’m secretly hoping for a glut of tomatoes again as I’ve really been enjoying sampling that fresh grown flavour throughout the winter months thanks to the home made sauce in the freezer. Home made pesto would be a lovely addition this year to perk up pasta!

I’m just keep my fingers crossed that I don’t have too much die on me this year, but if you’ve got any tips on getting any of the plants mentioned to thrive, please let me know! My nerves may not be able to take the stress otherwise!