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

Home sweet home

It is a truth universally acknowledged (even in secret) that there is nothing worse that other people’s travel photos, except perhaps other people’s travel stories. So as much as I am tempted to mark the end of our grand adventures abroad with an endless parade of photos and a stream-of-consciousness piece about the joys of frolicking around Europe for two months, I’m going to restrain myself. I’m going to pretend that we’ve just bumped into each other:

You: ‘Oh, so you’re back. Did you have a good time?’

Me: ‘Yeah, got back last Thursday. We had the best time ever. Honestly, it was just fantastic. We…’

You (eyes glazing over, hatred mounting): ‘Oh. Great. Oh look, I have to go… (rushes off)

Jetlag, what jetlag?

We ate, we drank, we caught up with old friends and made new ones, we laughed, we walked miles and miles, we watched my beautiful niece marry her lovely partner, we read thousands of stories, did oodles of colouring-in and dragged the Small Girl away from every playground/carousel/toy shop/ice cream merchant in greater London/Paris/Berlin/Hong Kong. Every now and then, just to make sure I remembered how, I cooked. Or at the very least I pottered around in a strange kitchen, enjoying the novelty of it all.

Kreuzberg, Berlin, August 2013

Best of all, I got to do it with these two. I won’t pretend that there was never a cross word between us (and, I do admit that on day two, crippled by jetlag and the sudden switch from 9C to 33C in temperature, I did think, ‘what have we done?! This is a terrible idea!’) but we actually had a ball. Aren’t they great?

Now though, it’s all about channelling that holiday love into catching up with normal life. I’m certainly not expecting any sympathy, but it is REALLY hard returning to the daily grind. I feel like I’m acting out the lyrics in that Talking Heads song:

“And you may ask yourself

How do I work this?

And you may ask yourself

Where is that large automobile?

And you may tell yourself

This is not my beautiful house!

And you may tell yourself

This is not my beautiful wife!”

I can’t use the jetlag excuse any longer but I am still not match fit in the kitchen. Tonight I made sushi that would make Jiro Ono cry, while yesterday I decapitated a silicon spatula by absentmindedly sticking it into a running food processor. On Friday I made my first loaf of bread in two months and forgot the salt. But, like the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, I’m getting there. Slowly.

In the meantime, what I’m really dying to hear is what you’ve been up to in my absence. No, really, I am! What’s the best – and the worst – thing that’s happened to you in the last two months? Fill me in!

Treat me: Pears in spiced red wine

It says a lot about the horrors of boarding school food that my co-prisoners and I were cheered up by tinned pears. We had pudding three times a week – Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday lunch – and tinned fruit was a constant. In some ways this was a good thing (our rationale being that if it had come in a tin, the cooks couldn’t have done anything to it) but when you consider that we were in a city ringed by orchards and we never got any nice fresh fruit, it was shameful.
Anyway, we liked tinned pears mostly because they were served with a vat of chocolate custard. This tasted like cheap cocoa and cornflour, but when you’d eschewed a plate of grey meat, frozen corn and mashed potato so firm you could cut it into cubes, it was nothing short of manna from heaven.

Pears in red wine
I never buy tinned pears, but I’ve been buying lots of fresh ones lately and bringing them to ripeness in the fridge. The ones that are slightly firmer get poached in a spiced red wine syrup like this one.

200g (1 cup) lightly packed brown sugar
3 cinnamon sticks

The peel of 1 large orange – try to avoid as much of the bitter pith (the white stringy bits) as possible
6 juniper berries, optional
4 star anise
8 whole cloves
6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
A 2cm slice of fresh ginger½ cup dark rum (or brandy, or port)
1 x 750ml bottle of fruity red wine (merlot is good)

6 firm but unblemished pears

Heat the oven to 160C. Put everything except the pears in a large lidded, ovenproof casserole dish (like a big Le Creuset, or similar) that will be big enough to take the pears as well. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Carefully peel the pears using a potato peeler. Leave the stems on but cut out the blossom end (at the bottom) to remove the core.
Gently put the pears in the dish – add a little water to make sure they are submerged in the liquid.
Put the lid on and put the dish in the oven. Cook for two to three hours, until the pears are tender when pierced with a sharp knife. When they’re done, you can leave them sitting in the syrup until you’re ready to eat them. I think they’re best at room temperature, with some very cold homemade creme fraiche.
Store any leftover syrup in a lidded jar in the fridge. It can be used again (or warmed up and sipped on a cold, wet night).

Have a great weekend, everyone x