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

Treat me: Tahini bars

In the circles I move in, or at least the online ones, tahini is having a little moment. First I saw this rendition of Ottolenghi’s Tahini Soup, then I saw this Turkish Tahini Cake. Then, as if to prove that tahini’s time had come in real life too, I had a lengthy discussion with two friends about whether or not the tahini available in the Middle East is different to the stuff we can buy here. (We didn’t reach any kind of conclusion. Your thoughts on this important matter are very welcome.)

Anyway, all this tahini talk reminded me of two things. One, it’s easy to make your own. Two, it’s even easier to make these gorgeous oaty bars.


Tahini Bars
These started life as a sort of biscuity thing, but I wasn’t that happy with them. They’re much better this way – richy, chewy and not too sweet. Vary the extras – the chocolate, nuts and fruit – to suit your cupboards. I think it’s best to opt for very dark chocolate and tangy fruit, such as apricots and cranberries.

125ml (1/2 cup) tahini
80g (three generous tablespoons) golden syrup
80g (three generous tablespoons) honey
1 1/2 cups (150g) rolled oats
50-70g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
50g (about 1/3 of a cup) dried apricots, roughly chopped
50g (about 1/3 of a cup) dates, roughly chopped
50g (about 1/3 of a cup) almonds or sunflower seeds, roughly chopped

Heat the oven to 180C. Line a brownie pan (measuring about 20 x 20cm) with baking paper.
Put the tahini and honey in a large bowl and stir well, then tip in the other ingredients. Mix well, then press into the prepared pan. It may not be enough to fill the pan, but don’t panic. Just press it out until it’s about 1cm thick.
Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown. It will still be soft, but it will harden as it cools. Mark out the bars while it’s still warm. Store in an airtight container when cold. Makes about 18 bars.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Do share a link to your favourite tahini-related recipe in the comments below.

Spinach and garlic hummus

On Friday a master gardener is coming to visit. I have asked her not to be shocked and horrified by the state of my garden, but I’ve since realised that I am constantly shocked and horrified by it, so it’s unfair to expect her not to be. At least the landslide in the back garden is a talking point; the less said about the neglected state of what we call ‘the allotment’ the better. But, as I discovered in the weekend, there are things growing down there where the wild things are. I have terraces of parsley, proud rows of rainbow chard and a transplanted bay tree (which would not have survived the slip if it hadn’t been moved). But before I discovered these things I found a big bag of baby spinach in the fridge that needed to be used before I could harvest our greens in good conscience. This is what I did with it.

Spinach and garlic hummus
If your children – or other members of your household – are resistant to eating their greens, this may convert them. If it doesn’t, then there’s all the more for you. I ended up throwing in some parsley, because we have it in such abundance at the moment we could start selling it at the market. Actually, there’s an idea…

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
7-8 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
100g baby spinach (most of one of those bags you get from the supermarket)
salt and pepper
a couple of juicy lemons
a couple of handfuls of fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Put two tablespoons of the olive oil in a high-sided frying pan and place it over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until just beginning to turn golden. Tip in the chilli flakes, the spinach and the chickpeas and saute for a couple of minutes, until the spinach wilts and the chickpeas colour slightly. Transfer the mixture to a food processor, along with the juice of one lemon, five tablespoons of olive oil, a good pinch of salt, some black pepper and the parsley. Whiz, stopping to scrape down the sides of the processor as necessary. Taste and add more oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper if needed. Scrape into a bowl and drizzle with oil before serving. Store any leftover in the fridge, well covered, for a couple of days.

Throwing in the parsley also means this hummus makes the cut for Lavender and Lovage’s Cooking With Herbs challenge (you can read more about that here). If your garden is looking a little bare and you need any encouragement to get out in it, watch this. I can’t wait to see it.

Cooking with Herbs

Spring berry smoothie

Something a bit embarrassing happens when we have people round. It’s not a problem when the sun is over the yardarm, so to speak, but when they look meaningfully at the kettle and the cupboard where the mugs are, I feel a bit uncomfortable.
It’s not that I am ashamed of the tin of instant coffee (it’s for my mother-in-law – she doesn’t drink the other stuff) or our ugly mug selection, but that I’m never sure when to break it to them that we don’t have any milk.
Apart from my great milk-drinking, bechamel-sauce guzzling period (September 2008 until about May 2009), we don’t drink it. I buy some occasionally if a cooking project warrants it, of course, but it does seem rather wasteful to buy milk, keep it in the fridge on the off-chance that we might have a milky tea-drinker crossing the threshold, then end up throwing it away. Perhaps I should invest in those little sachets of milk that you get in hotels. But I think I’d rather look like a bad hostess than one with no taste. What do you think?

Vegan Berry Smoothie

Spring berry smoothie
One of the best things about living a milk-free existence is that you get to make virtuous and vibrant smoothies like this one. One of the best things about coming back to New Zealand after our holiday was drinking water from the tap without gagging – if you live somewhere with disgusting tap water then I’d suggest making these with the bottle sort. Or I suppose you could go all out and use milk, but rest assured, it’s nicer without. If you’re not a fan of berries, try fresh pineapple.

For two large smoothies:

1 1/2 cups frozen berries
1 large banana, cut into chunks (this is a good way to use up frozen bananas, if you have a freezer full)
3 Tbsp ground almonds
1 Tbsp chia seeds
250ml cold water

Put everything in a blender, or in a large glass jar in which you can fit a stick blender, and whizz until smooth. Add a little more water if it seems very thick. Pour into two glasses and serve.

Treat me: Chocolate prune truffles

My father loved chocolate of all kinds, but most of all the dark, rich, expensive sort. The first Father’s Day after he died I found myself in a posh chocolate shop trying to decide what to buy him. I was just about to make my selection before I remembered – there was no dad to buy them for. Even now I find myself looking at books or recipes and thinking, ‘Dad would love this’. I was thinking about his love of chocolate and dried fruit when I started tinkering with these truffles.

Chocolate Prune Truffles
These are child’s play to make – providing you have a child who likes supervised play that involves a food processor – and virtuous enough for the most health-conscious dad while tasting incredibly indulgent. Forget about your prune phobia and make them, now.

200g pitted prunes
100g ground almonds
2 Tbsp cocoa
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
1 Tbsp honey
50g dark chocolate, roughly chopped, plus 150g dark chocolate for dipping

Line a shallow baking dish or similar with baking paper and set aside.
Put the prunes in a food processor and whiz to a coarse paste. Add the ground almonds, cocoa, vanilla and honey and whiz again, then pulse in the 50g chocolate.
Take small teaspoon-sized blobs of the mixture and roll into balls. Put them on the prepared tray and put them in the fridge for about 15 minutes (longer, if you need to).
Carefully melt the 150g dark chocolate – a double-boiler arrangement is the safest option, unless you have a microwave – then dip the balls into it. Leave to set, then store in an airtight container in a cool place. Makes 24 small balls (allowing for a reasonable amount of sampling during the making process).

If you’re really not sure about chocolate and prunes, you could always check out the truffles other bloggers have been making for August’s We Should Cocoa challenge. Guest host Elizabeth and challenge creator Choclette have kindly let me slot this recipe in at the last minute – and from a quick look at some of the others, it’s in very good company.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and happy Father’s Day for Sunday to Antipodean dads everywhere.