Tuesday, 9 February 2016


In 2014 we went to Japan, something I've pretty much always wanted to do.

While there we discovered something important - Osaka is quite possibly the best place for street food. We were introduced to Takoyaki. After two years of searching Paul bought me a takoyaki pan for my birthday. The fun begins.

Where do we shop for such unusual ingredients as bonito flakes though? Introducing my new favourite supermarket, HiYoU, conveniently located in Newcastle city centre. We even bought some kimchi there, meaning the only part of our Osaka visit we couldn't recreate was the Korean BBQ (yet).

What's takoyaki? Probably best described as spherical pancakes with octopus (tako), spring onion, ginger and optionally some kind of peppery sausage in it. It's like a paella and a pancake in one. Amazing Japanese street food.

We used the Takoyaki recipe on Japanese Cooking 101, the video shows you the key skill of rotating the takoyaki in the pan to get a perfect sphere.

Paul prepared the filling while I handled the batter. He mixed tako, fennel sausages, spring onion, coriander and pickled ginger together, chopping the tako and sausage into really small pieces. A small amount of cayenne pepper was involved too. The mix was briefly shown to a pan and mixed about a bit.

The most interesting feature of the batter was the dashi, a sort of very simple fish stock which is the base for a lot of Japanese cooking, I'll be adding this to probably too many things in the future. The rest of the batter was made up from flour, egg, salt and soy sauce. Bonito flakes can be used as the base for the dashi but we went with a ready to go cube - the true place for bonito flakes is sprinkled on top of the complete takoyaki.

The mixed batter goes in your takoyaki pan. A poffertjes pan might also work but is probably not deep enough. Don't panic about it overflowing when you start adding the tako and sausage filling, this will soon resolve. 

Let the batter form a solid bottom then using your new found takoyaki twirling skills separate it from the other balls and rotate it onto the other side. Do this for each one and you'll start to get a landscape a bit like the photo below.

 Be patient and careful, the pan is bloody hot. Once the takoyaki is browned evenly decant them onto a plate. Sprinkle them with aonori and bonito flakes, both of these will shrink a little in the heat. Then cover them in a generous helping of okonomi sauce and Japanese mayo. Get eating!


Friday, 28 March 2014

Improvised Tagine like thing that works well if I've lots of guests, one or more of whome are vegan.

How I improvise a Tagine style of thing if i've got a bunch of gamers coming round goes like this:

Get more or less equal amounts of all of these things:

Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato, Carrots, any coloured peppers you like, Chickpeas, Tomatoes (a mix of tinned and real is best), Onions.

Drain the Chickpeas, rince, clean and slice the rest of the above into D20 sized chunks or slightly larger, except for the onions which want to be smaller.

Get smaller, but not insignificant amounts of these, maybe a small handful of each:

Figs, Apricots, dried or fresh, a combination of dried and fresh is good. Slice it all up. Garlic, crush some cloves of garlic, but at least one bulb you can just slice in half.

Throw all of the above into a flat tray so it stacks up to about 5cm and chuck flaked almonds in there as well. Fuck it, chuck some pomegranate seeds or other some random fruit in there too. It’ll probably work out fine.

Ras el hanout! – Turmeric, Cumin, crushed Black Pepper, Salt, Smoked Paprica, Cayenne Pepper. Slice a whole big chilli, remove seeds or leave them in if you like or some of the nice dried chilli flakes you can get in MMM in the Grainger Market in Newcastle. Some fresh bunches of stuff if you have it, like Thyme, Coriander or parsley. A Bay leaf or two is probably useful in an undefined way. Lots of spices shaken on top of this all.

Sorry, I don’t know how to be vegan: I’d also usually add honey and some butter. There are tricks that vegans know I’m sure. I have heard of fig paste? I think this might be a good idea.


Pour on hot water and vegetable stock. By now you’ve completely overdone the spices. Fine. Stick it in the oven such that the water starts to bubble then turn it down to about 150/160 for a long time – two hours plus.

At the end you want it not to be watery, so if it’s looking too watery after an hour and a half turn up the heat a bit. There shouldn't be pools of water at the end, stir it round a bit so the chickpeas can absorb stuff. If it starts to burn on top you can stir it about a bit or put tin foil loosely over the top. If you still end up with water you don't want to waste that so use it to make the couscous.

This feeds many, many people and serve it with couscous.

Stacey Whittle has demonstrated that the best way to do couscous is to have it with chopped mint and coriander and pomegranate seeds.

Level UP!

This may end up looking like a mess, particularly if you've burned bits of it or left it too long and it goes a bit gooey. You can fix this and win the game by wrapping scoops of tagine-esq in filo pastry parcels, sprinkling caster sugar and almonds on top and return to the oven to cook the pastry. Caster sugar: absolutely.

This will provide a good contrasting texture to keep things interesting while also allowing it to not look like a complete mess. That's helpful.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Carrot Muffins

I have successfully made muffins. Last year I tried to make banana and blueberry muffins, they didn't work out. The muffins were strangely rubbery in texture. This put me off making muffins for quite a while, until earlier this week when I realised that we had a lot of carrots about to go. Enter the savoury muffin, or at least savoury was the plan, this is actually really nice as a semi sweet too. I have decided to call them carrot and olive oil as you can very much taste the olive element in a very good way. Use good olive oil, it's worth it.

Carrot and Olive Oil Muffins

This recipe makes about 12 muffins depending on what size cases you're using.

You will need:

  • 150ml olive oil
  • 90g brown or caster sugar (I used golden caster)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 225g carrot, roughly grated
  • A handful of sunflower seeds
  • A handful of flaked almonds
  • 150g whole flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Get a muffin tray ready, line it with paper cases. Preheat your oven to 190°C.

Put the oil, sugar and egg into a bowl and mix together, then add the carrot, milk, sunflower seeds and almonds. Stir the mixture well.

So that's your wet ingredients out of the way. In another bowl combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, coriander and salt. Now for the fun part, introduce the two, don't be too formal about it. Pour in the ingredients from the wet bowl and stir lightly, until just combined. You don't want to knock the air out of this mixture, you want to hardly stir at all. 

Pop a couple of spoonfuls of mixture into each muffin case. I filled mine level with the top of the case as they don't rise very much. I had visions of it overflowing everywhere as it cooked, this didn't happen. Cook for 30 - 35 minutes, you're looking for them to rise and spring back lightly when pressed. For extra security I also stuck a skewer in the middle of the largest one at this point to see if it had cooked through. If the skewer comes out clean then they're done. Remove them from the oven and let them sit in the tray for about 10 minutes before moving to a cooling rack.

Now enjoy.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

No Sudden Moves.

I've been thinking.

It's increasingly difficult to justify eating meat. This has been nagging at me for a while now. I'll not list all of the reasons, there are many and various, both political and personal, and all of the reasons don't encompass all of the animals.

Becoming a vegetarian overnight isn't likely to be sustainable, I'd not know how and i'd probably end up dropping the idea.

So for now, I'll not be cooking red meat, and will avoid food that's based around it when eating out. What meat I do buy won't be from supermarkets and there will be a lot less chicken and pork. Tending towards none. We'll see.

But if you go on or in water, the chances of being eaten by me have greatly increased.

Just so you know.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Sausage, Mash and Onion and Beetroot Gravy

Below there is a picture. It should be a picture of a pile of mash with sausages on top covered with onion gravy, instead it's an empty plate. You can still see the signs of mash and gravy if you look closely.

The highlight was the gravy. Without a doubt the best gravy I have ever created. So I thought I'd share it. This is not traditional onion gravy by any stretch of the imagination but trust me it works.

Magnificent Onion and Beetroot Gravy

You'll need:
  • an onion in large chunks
  • a beetroot (or in my case three very tiny beetroots)
  • some butter
  • some cooking oil
  • a bit of salt and pepper
  • a dash of pomegranate molasses (probably optional but delicious)
  • a dash of balsamic vinegar
  • half a teaspoon of marmite
  • a teaspoon of dijon mustard
  • a dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • a tablespoon of sugar
Put the butter and cooking oil into a pan and let it melt, chuck in the large onion chunks. Make sure your hob is on the lowest possible heat it can be, let the onions sit about. Peel and cut your beetroot into very thin strips, add to the onions then sprinkle in a little salt and pepper. Let the onions and beetroot cook slowly until the onion is mostly transparent. The low and slow cooking releases the natural sugars in the onion and beetroot meaning that you'll get a wonderfully gloopy gravy.

Add a tiny amount (just covering the mixture) of water to the pan along with the pomegranate molasses, balsamic vinegar, marmite, dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce then stir in the sugar. Now you can leave it there for a bit while you brown off those sausages in a frying pan (the ones you're making the gravy for, remember). Once they're browned add the gravy to the pan, try to mix in any sticky bits on the bottom of the pan, they're just browned sausage and will add flavour. Turn down the heat on the frying pan to the lowest it'll go and let it bubble away for at least 15 minutes, until the sausages are done. 

You should end up with sausages coated in the gravy goodness, with just enough left over to drizzle mercilessly over your mash. Because this mixture is sticky there's no need to mess about with cornflour, you can see when the gravy is done by looking at the consistency. If it looks like gravy then it's done, if it's not thick enough leave it for longer on the low heat.

Serve over mashed potato, the sharpness of the beetroot and creaminess of the mash work wonderfully together. Enjoy. 

I think I may have accidentally upped the gravy game in this house. Sorry Paul. 

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Crusted Lamb : Part 2

So this is what it looked like:

Christmas does get in the way of things doesn't it?

Anyway, the lamb went in the oven for a long time on a low heat and came out pretty good: a little bit pinker in the middle than some of my guests were prepared for, but hey, that's what the end pieces are for.

So yes, it worked pretty well, the crust didn't really stick - as you can see in the picture, it fell off on one side, so a little better preparation and care beforehand might have helped.

Also, the stuff I put in the crust mix plus samphire ended up making the whole thing very salty, probably a little bit too salty to be honest, but that's easy to tone down, and I was a little unambitious with the almonds, too: more would have worked really well.

This will be better next time, but by no means a failure: it all got eaten.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Christmas means Biscuits?

I had a sudden urge to make Christmas biscuits of some form or another. I don't mean those really hard ones you hang on the tree, I mean something warming, crumbly and delicious. Probably heavy in chocolate. Below is the result, I think it turned out rather well.

You've probably worked out by now that at least 50% of my cooking is improvised. This is no different, we had wholemeal flour in so that's what got used and let me tell you, it worked. These biscuits are delicious. 

Britt's Chocolate Christmas Biscuits

You will need:
  • Wholemeal flour (but like I said, that's just what I had in, plain will do fine) - 300 grams
  • Caster Sugar - 150 grams
  • Butter - 250 grams (that's a full block)
  • Cocoa Powder - 40 grams (roughly)
  • Baking Powder - 2 teaspoons
For the topping:
  • Dark Chocolate - 150 grams
  • Baileys - 2 tablespoons (give or take) - optional
  • Cinnamon - a dash
  • Icing Sugar - very little
  • White Writing Icing (totally optional and difficult to control at that)

Put the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with parchment.

Put the sugar and butter into the largest mixing bowl you can find and cream them together, then add the cocoa powder and do it again. When they're all combined rub in the flour and baking powder. The mixture will turn to crumbs, gradually gather it into a solid ball. If you find the mixture is too crumbly to stick together you can add a tablespoon or two of milk (it's unlikely you'll need much if any). If you've got one of those snazzy food processors or kitchen aids skip most of this step and dump the butter, flour, sugar and cocoa butter into the thing all at once but realise you're removing the joy from it. I could just be jealous of your kitchen gadgetry. 

Pull off a small ball at a time and squish slightly as you place them on the baking tray. I recently got some shape cutters, don't get excited, they're just circles, so I actually pushed the mixture flat (I don't have a rolling pin yet) and used the shape cutter, then repeated until I was all out of the mixture. 

You'll probably get 12 biscuits per a tray, cook them for 15 minutes. Leave them to stand for 15 minutes (you can use this time to cook the next batch as this recipe makes roughly 40 biscuits) on a cold surface or cooling rack. 

Once you've got all the biscuits you want and they're nicely cooled it's time to start on the topping. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over boiling water. Add the Baileys (optional but encouraged), cinnamon and icing sugar, I won't tell you how much, this depends entirely on your preference but use the icing sugar to get the texture slightly gloopy and spreadable rather than a runny mess. Spread the chocolate Baileys mix on to the top of the biscuits and leave to set, this can take a while depending on how boozy you went. You can also attempt to draw snowflakes with writing icing at this stage but it's not a deal breaker.

Now eat one.

Now another.