Treat me: Boozy figs

If you were beamed to earth from another planet at the moment you’d think all humans did was eat, drink and be merry. While the period between mid-November and early January is fairly intense on that scale, it’s pretty much always the season of entertaining at our house. And I love it, I really do, except for perhaps that tense 15 minutes just before the entertainees arrive and I feel in a state of complete chaos.

This year, with two fairly major entertaining events scheduled chez nous in the next fortnight, I’ve decided to take control. Firstly, I’m going to delegate a lot more (sorry, invitees, I understand if you want to pull out now) and secondly, I’m going to have something up my sleeve that I prepared earlier.

These boozy figs are an excellent do-ahead option at this time of year, whether you’re holding a soiree or you’ve been invited to one by someone like me who wants you to cross town with dessert in your handbag. The recipe is of unknown provenance – it’s out of one of my mum’s notebooks – and it is very simple. I’ve a hunch it is just the thing for this month’s Tea Time Treats challenge, hosted by the ever-lovely Karen of Lavender and Lovage (with able support from Kate at What Kate Baked) – in which dried fruit is the theme.

Boozy figs
You can whip these mulled figs together in five minutes before you go to work, then when you come home they’ll be all plump and juicy. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, serve them warm over a slab of posh vanilla ice cream., if you’re in the southern, add strawberries. If you’re really, really organised, put them in a lidded jar in the fridge and they’ll be good for several weeks.

400g dried figs, cut in half (use scissors)
500ml fruity red wine
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 small orange, washed and halved
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 punnet of strawberries, washed and hulled (optional)

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and let bubble away for five minutes. Take off the heat and let cool. Then, either transfer to a bowl or jar, cover and put in the fridge. Or, if you’re planning to eat them in a few hours, add the strawberries before putting in the fridge. Serves six.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tea Time Treats

Kitchen DIY: Homemade date syrup

I realised, slightly late in the piece, that it was a bit irresponsible to post a recipe for something using homemade date syrup without actually sharing how to make it. So, without any further ado, here’s how to make date syrup at home.

Easy Homemade Date Syrup

Homemade Date Syrup
This is quite different to storebought date syrup, sometimes called date molasses, which is cooked down to a more syrypy consistency. The DIY version has a fresher, slightly less sweet taste – and it’s still good to eat by the spoonful.

1 cup (about 200g) dates, chopped
1 cups (250ml) boiling water

Put the dates in a small, heatproof bowl and pour over the boiling water (add a little more if it doesn’t quite cover the dates). Cover and let stand overnight or for at least eight hours.
The next morning/when you get home from work, put the soaked dates and water into a food processor or blender and whizz until smooth and well combined.
Scrape this mixture into a clean jar and store in the fridge.

Grapefruit curd

You know how lemon curd is always so painstaking to make, with all that double-boiler anxiety and fretful stirring? It doesn’t have to be that way.
I had an epiphany in the weekend after coming across Stephanie Alexander’s revolutionary method. As so often happens with The Cook’s Companion, I was looking up something else when I stumbled across her lemon curd recipe. In it, she dismisses the received wisdom that it needs gentle heat and patience and instead gives some short-cut instructions.

I was a bit nervous – it’s a bit like setting out on a half-marathon to have some geezer pop out from behind a bush and say, ‘look love, here’s a short-cut that will get you there in half the time’ – but I can confidently report that it works a treat. I’ll possibly never remember what I was looking for to start with, but with this kind of knowledge now under my belt I’m not too bothered.

Easy Way To Make Grapefruit Curd

Grapefruit Curd
Did you know that if you Google ‘grapefruit’ most links are for the ‘Grapefruit Diet’. I find this profoundly depressing. Instead, I’m prescribing a course of the Grapefruit Curd Diet. Try some of this on your toast and see if you don’t feel better about life. Don’t worry about the butter and eggs, think of the vitamin C! The recipe is adapted from the one mentioned above in The Cook’s Companion, one of my most used, most loved books.

4 free-range egg yolks
2/3 cup caster sugar
100ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (one or two grapefruits should do it)
finely grated zest of two grapefruits
60g butter, diced

Put the egg yolks and sugar in a small pot and beat together until well blended. Add the grapefruit juice and zest, and the butter. Put the pot over medium-high heat and stir constantly until it comes to simmering point. As soon as the bubbles appear, remove from the heat. Keep stirring for another minute or so, then pour into sterilised jars. Makes about 450ml. Refrigerate when cold.

Now, I know you’re thinking, ‘but what will I do with four egg whites’? I have the perfect answer for you, but you’ll have to wait until Friday. Put them in a plastic lidded container and freeze them while you await further instructions.

Happy Waitangi Day to fellow New Zealanders everywhere. Hope you are celebrating with some appropriate feasting, whether it’s pipis and paua, asparagus rolls and whitebait fritters, roast lamb or a hangi. Cheers!

Treat me: DIY Speculoos spread

When I was a proper journalist (the sort that actually went out of the office and talked to real people) I’d often stumble upon fantastic charity shops in the middle of nowhere. If time allowed I’d sneak off to them after the interviews were done – while the old ladies who staff these shops are great sources of local knowledge it’s hard to concentrate on finding treasure when you’ve got an interview looming.

These days, stuck at my desk, I’m reduced to finding fun things on the internet in the course of my research. It’s not quite as good, but you can unearth lots of gems all the same. Take speculoos spread, for example. I started reading about it while researching recipe formats last week. It was totally new to me, but it’s apparently ‘Europe’s alternative to peanut butter’ and caused much excitement when Waitrose started selling it in the UK late last year.
The real thing is made from ground-up Speculoos cookies – with a few other ingredients – and is said to be as addictive as Nutella. My DIY version is much simpler, you can make it from everyday ingredients and it’s just as habit-forming.

Speculoos Spread And Crumpets

Speculoos spread
I have no idea what ‘real’ speculoos spread tastes like but this is absolutely delicious – like eating raw gingerbread but without the attendant stomach ache. I’ve been eating it on hot crumpets, but it would transform even the most basic slice of bread. Or you could put it in a toasted sandwich with sliced banana. Or you could just eat it with a spoon…

100g soft unsalted butter
4 Tbsp golden syrup
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp Chinese five-spice
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
1/4 tsp salt

Put all ingredients in a small bowl and beat until smooth and fluffy. Eat immediately, or store in the fridge, covered.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

All Good Banana Jam

Buoyed by my success at sandwich making (did I tell you, my Black Forest Sandwich won the People’s Choice Award at the Urban Harvest sandwich contest?), I am now turning my hand to jam. While my sandwich making prowess has been honed over decades, my jam making skills are rudimentary to say the least. However, they welcome allcomers at the Welly Jamoff on March 25 and I figure you’ve got to be in it to win it – or something like that.

Actually, I’m just happy to be in it, especially because I reckon all the other ‘jampetitors’ will be crafting their preserves from carefully cultivated fruit and mine came from the supermarket. That said, I have been pretty selective. I haven’t just chosen any bananas for my entry, but bananas with a social conscience. All Good Bananas are all about “changing the world, one banana at a time” – their Fairtrade fruit comes from Ecuador and it might be my bleeding heart imagination but I’m sure they taste better. I’d rather pay a little bit more for bananas for my family if it means the family that grew them gets some kind of payback along the way.

Whether that means my jam will make the cut on Sunday remains to be seen – but in the meantime, here’s the recipe. It’s really good spread on homemade bagels, dolloped on Greek yoghurt, used to sandwich a sponge or even stirred into porridge.

Easy Banana Jam Recipe

All Good Banana Jam
I’ve had this recipe since 2005, when I asked a web forum if anyone could tell me how to make banana jam without using artificial colours and flavourings. A helpful woman called Kerry sent me a version of this recipe, saying it was the one she used when she lived in Lagos, where the bananas have red skins. I’ve upped the cinnamon a bit and added walnuts, but you could leave them out.

6 ripe but not mushy Fairtrade bananas (choose ones with a gentle amount of freckling on the skin)
3 cups Fairtrade white sugar
3/4 cup lemon juice (about 4 lemons) – from our neighbours’ tree
1 1/2 tsp Fairtrade cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup walnuts (fresh local ones, if you can manage it)

Mash the bananas with a fork, then arrange layers of mashed banana and sugar in a heavy-based pot. Sprinkle over the cinnamon and salt, then pour over the lemon juice. Cover and let sit for an hour, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture looks syrupy.
Heat gently and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until thick, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Stir in the walnuts, then pour into sterilised jars and seal. Makes 4-5 jars. Store in the fridge once opened.

And if you’re wondering what to do with those banana skins (apart from putting them on the pavement for comedy potential) this cake puts them to use. I can’t quite stomach the thought of it myself, but let me know if you’ve tried it.

Anyway, are you a jamtastic type? What’s your favourite to make or eat?