Calm

Politics are in uproar.

It feels like a full time job just keeping up with the news.

My recommended antidote is a cold, strong one; the silver bullet; the elixir of quietude.

Plus dogs/cats/plants if you have any to hand.

Here is my weekend cure: a classic gin martini with a twist of lemon.

The lemons came from the Co-op which I believe to provide the best store-brand lemons in the country.

They are almost always fresh, shiny, unwaxed and completely bursting with tasty lemon oil when you lightly squeeze the delectable rind.

I also made my own Bombay mix to go with it. I bought some wholewheat noodle nests but loads of bits of them had broken off, so I took all the loose scraps and deep-fried them with some peanuts and cashew nuts I had in the cupboard.

I then wok-fried some mustard seeds and threw in the noodle-nut mixture when the seeds started to pop. I stirred quickly, chucked in some curry leaves, a teaspoon of curry power, a sprinkle of salt and a grind of black pepper then stirred it quickly to mix it all up. I then tipped it onto a plate to cool down.

When it comes to texture, is there anything better than deep frying? Probably not.

There’s also something I find very comforting about South Asian flavours, but you could do this with all sorts of things. Maybe stir in some shredded nori seaweed or furikake at the last minute. Smoked paprika? Sea salt?

Whatever you choose, amid constitutional court rulings, impeachment proceedings and climate change, the resulting moment of peace that accompanied my citrusy martini and snacks was exactly what I needed.

Spring weekend

It’s been a while since my last post so I thought I would put up a brief update on my nice weekend.


We had the first properly warm weather of the year.


It was warm enough to light the garden fire pit and have a martini outside before dinner.


It’s so nice to get outside again. I took this picture because I thought the lower part of the log resembled sliced shime saba


We also got the chance to go to Calgary beach.


Canadians take note – this was where many islanders took the boat west to settle on your shores during the Highland Clearances.

These images are actually taken from the ruins of one of the abandoned settlements.

Evidently those who once lived here and moved to the New World named one of the more successful Canadian settlements after the bay.


Calgary in Alberta has since grown to a much larger size than the original!


On returning home I prepared some izakaya-style skewers for the barbecue. The above is lamb liver with spring onion, dipped in a sweet soy glaze with garlic and vermouth. Grilled for about 4-5 minutes on each side they went well with a drink, although I need to practise my barbecue skills.


I also wrapped asparagus with prosciutto and grilled for about 2 minutes on each side.


Easy and tasty.


After that it was time for drinks.


And our first sunset of the year enjoyed from the garden.

Sweet martini accompaniments

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Normally I would only ever serve savoury snacks to accompany a martini, but there have been a small number of exceptions. I don’t have a sweet tooth but some of you might, so this is for you.

I made some umami tuna steaks for a friend for dinner (thank you Laura Santtini for the recipe). We had a martini as an apéritif before the meal but then wanted another one after we had eaten as well… I guess as a digestif.

After the umami flavour of dinner, my friend asked for something sweet to follow. I rarely eat dessert but I had one or two sweet items to hand – although they were perhaps a little unconventional, not just as a pudding, but also as a martini accompaniment.

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I served maraschino cherries.

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And some cherry sherbet. Which looks a little bit like cocaine.

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But let’s be honest, if you’re drinking martinis, who needs drugs?

  
On another occasion I dipped some maraschino cherries in some Tobermory dark chocolate which went nicely as a digestif accompaniment.

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I do NOT approve of this but some of my friends do… 

 

Cape gooseberries make a nice, subtle citrus accompaniment. I would actually consider serving them alongside savoury martini snacks.

  
Lychees can work. 


Lots of lychees can also work.


Especially if served as part of a lychee martini.

  
This sweet popcorn went quite nicely with an after-dinner espresso martini.

  
Here is a late-night martini I served with some chocolate-covered almonds.

  
Here is some homemade Scottish tablet, referred to by some of my friends in England as “sugar heroin”. It’s not particularly healthy but it tastes amazing and is a nice pick-me-up after a meal.


Even someone like me likes the odd bit of chocolate in the evening, especially during the winter months. Here is a small selection of rough pieces served on a cold, rainy night in Scotland. 


Finally, how can you beat this Italian classic? The affogato (which means ‘drowned’) combines ice cream drenched in an espresso, in this case served perfectly in a martini glass.

Thank you Italy for taking us, once again, to the next level.

French meets Japan supper club at Mirey’s Restaurant

My friends Gerry and Ko have set up a popup restaurant in south London, showcasing their creative talent and delicious food.


The event took place in the London Cooking Project, a community-run culinary initiative in Battersea aimed at fostering budding catering talent in the area.


We signed up and were provided with this tantalising menu.


During a fairly manic pre-Christmas week it was lovely to get a chance to relax and enjoy someone else’s cooking – especially given its sophistication. What a treat!


On arrival guests were provided with a glass of French cider blended with a fruit syrup.


Otherwise it was BYOB, although Ko and Gerry brought back a case of sake from a recent trip to Japan and I was highly intent on trying some. 


I chose a dry sake from Hokkaido (where Ko comes from) which went very well with our first course: generously sliced tuna carpaccio with a tongue-tingling garnish of shredded daikon, green apple and fragrant herbs spices. It wasn’t just diverse in terms of its flavours; the inclusion of shiso leaves (perilla) and pink peppercorns turned it into a full-mouth sensation.


Next came a delicious steak tartare, with croutons, edamame, spicy sauce and a raw quail’s egg among other things.


Delicious and light, it was a real treat of contrasting textures, including the croutons which were served inside the tartare.


Next came a delicious lamb dish. Encrusted in pistachio nuts, the cutlets were sat on a bed of aubergine in spicy miso sauce.


A truly international dish, the lime really enhanced and united all of the flavours.


The aubergines were also particularly spicy which I loved.

For dessert we were presented with a trio of sweets. From the left to the right we had a yuzu cheesecake biscuit which was light and refreshing, followed by a matcha green tea Yule log, then sweet adzuki beans with a sweet sake jelly.


The latter was my favourite, with its surprising, light textures.


The atmosphere was also really fun – relaxed and friendly, I made several new friends from Europe and Japan.


I’m very pleased to report that Ko and Gerry will be resident at the Cuckoo pub in Islington from the new year so be sure to check out their food and stay up to date with their work here!

Even more Izakaya food

If you’re wondering about what snacks to serve with a martini, you will find endless inspiration in the world of Izakaya.


Izakaya can be roughly described as relaxed and usually low-cost Japanese gastro-pubs. I have written about them quite a bit before, mainly because of their warm atmosphere and inspiring array of tasty menu items that go very well with a martini.


Quite a lot of these dishes, such as this hot edamame with salt and soy sauce, were snapped in Yumi, Soho, one of a handful of Izakaya in London.


These olives and edamame I did at home though. They’re easy.


Here is some kimchi and cold broccoli with sesame sauce. Simple but effective. Also in Yumi.


Kimchi is a Korean dish consisting mostly of pickled cabbage with chillies.


Pungent and served cold, it can be an acquired taste to some in the West, but I love it. It has even been inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which is reason enough to give it a try at least.


This is some homemade lightly pickled mackerel (shime saba) with tsukemono pickles, spring onions, sesame seeds, cooked beetroot, soy sauce, grated ginger and lemon slices.


I think the strong taste of shime-saba pairs well with a bold martini.


It goes very well with a fiery ginger martini.


Here is some Yumi chicken yakitori with raw egg dipping sauce. Absolutely amazing.


Yakitori skewers are a common feature in Izakaya menus.


They’re a delicious and fairly substantial snack.


Inspired by the Yumi selection I made some grilled courgette skewers at home. They were dead easy. 


Rolling cut some courgettes into bite-sized chunks, grill them with some oil and soy sauce for about 20-30 mins, let them cool then thread them onto some skewers.

I put 9 pieces on each and fed them to some willing members of my family.


This is a Thai snack skewer, made of dried and seasoned fish. It has a sweet/umami/spicy taste and a texture like beef jerky.


More pre-packaged and possibly unhealthy snack food, but still tasty. Japanese peanuts coated in a squid-flavoured crunchy coating. It went well with a martini.


Here are some mussels in a garlic-cream sauce with chunky hunks of bread.


They can be slightly difficult to eat with a martini in one hand. It might be easier if you thread the mussels onto skewers first but that’s a bit of a faff.


It’s probably best to have a martini, eat the mussels, then have another martini.


You can see the recipe for these chilled scallops with paprika, seaweed-butter and lime canapés here.


You can probably guess that I love oysters.


I usually like them served as simple as they come.


Their rich oceanic flavour reminds me of being on the beach in the Hebrides when I was little. 


Living in central London it has to be a very evocative flavour to transport me over 500 miles and three decades in just one mouthful…


Anyway, back to Izakaya, sushi is also often served at these establishments. Here are some rough-hewn sushi rolls I put together.


This is a rather large uramaki (inside-out sushi roll) and not exactly the neatest you ever saw…


Loosely based on a California roll recipe, mine contained crab sticks, cucumber, avocado and wasabi.


(These aren’t mine)


I also spread some of my seemingly ubiquitous seaweed butter on the nori instead of using the more conventional mayonnaise.


I also made some smaller cucumber maki, also with seaweed butter.

Cucumber maki have a simple taste and a satisfying texture combining crisp nori, soft rice and the crunch of fresh cucumber.


They also go well with Hendricks gin, which is flavoured with cucumber and rose.


If you make your own rolls the ingredient variations are endless so try some out for yourself. 

Homemade sashimi is fairly easy to assemble.


Buy top grade fresh fish, gently but thoroughly rinse it in cold water. Pat dry then place in the freezer for about 45 minutes then slice into bite-size pieces and serve immediately with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.


Homemade sashimi might not resemble the expertly sliced morsels you’ll find in a proper sushi restaurant.


However, if the fish is good quality  it should stil be very tasty.


I served some tuna sashimi on sushi rice with omelette and pickles. Simplicity is the key. 

One of the nice aspects of Japanese Izakaya is the more relaxed, informal nature of the service and food.


Home-made style cooking is very popular at Izakaya, putting the emphasis on cosy comfort, relaxation and intimate care.


It’s more like being in someone’s warm, welcoming house rather than an intense fine dining experience, making it a very comfortable environment for a martini.


So if you’re lucky enough to be in Japan or a city with Izakaya venues be sure to check them out.


Otherwise, if you’re having a martini at home and fancy trying some more unusual snacks and appetisers have a go at some of these.


Itadakimasu!

Chilled scallop canapés with smoked paprika, seaweed-butter and lime

These sound fancy but they were quite easy to put together and can be made in advance, so they’re easy to serve if you’re having a party.


Get about one scallop per guest (or two if you want to make it a more substantial dish than just a canapé).


I love scallops. My dad was a scallop diver so they’ve never been far away from my consciousness.


Shell and lightly clean them.

Separate the coral. You can cook them at the same time as the white flesh and eat them when you like but don’t include them in the canapé itself.

Put the white flesh into the freezer for about 40 minutes. This will allow it to firm up.


Remove then slice horizontally, so that each scallop produces two or more thin discs of tender flesh.

Dry each piece with a paper towel.


Season both sides with a little salt and some paprika (smoked paprika if you can get it).

Heat some olive oil in a pan on relatively high heat.

Add the scallops and coral (in batches if you have a large amount).


Cook for about 40-50 seconds on one side (or at least until that side starts to brown – as in the above image) then turn over. Cook for about 30-40 seconds on the other side, or again until it starts to brown.

Remove the scallops from the pan and allow to cool to room temperature. Put them in the fridge.


Add a dash of soy sauce, a dash of mirin and half a teaspoon of honey to the pan. Stir and bring to the boil, then take off the heat and pour the sauce into a small dipping bowl.


When the time comes spread some seaweed butter onto a ritz cracker, or better still some miniature blini. Top with a slice of scallop and if you’re serving immediately pour a little of the dipping sauce over the scallop and garnish with a tiny sliver of lime peel. TINY. 


If you’re not serving the canapés immediately save the dipping sauce until right before you serve, cover the canapés and keep them in the fridge.

You can just eat the cooked coral on its own (I did; and I felt no guilt) or you can serve them separately with toothpicks and the dipping sauce.

The fresher the scallops, the better.


And naturally this goes very well with a martini. It’s an exquisite snack for even the most esteemed of guests.

Fusion Food: Seaweed Butter for Martini Canapés


Seaweed butter on a cracker with tsukemono cucumber pickles in the background.


I recently enjoyed a discovery taster menu at the beautiful Michelin-starred Greenhouse restaurant in London’s upscale Mayfair area.


I didn’t have any martinis as I didn’t want to spoil my palette before the dining extravaganza but the setting was beautiful, the food utterly inspiring and the service convivial and professional; in-depth but relaxed. What a treat! It certainly set my martini-obsessed brain into overload thinking of new potential ideas and experiments.


The exquisite nine-course menu contained a range of surprising and inspiring combinations, including cauliflower mousse with crab meat and mint jelly; scallop and yuzu tartare; grilled beef and pineapple and even the most gourmet version of cheese on toast I’ve ever heard of.


Did I mention the oyster, abalone and lettuce ravioli in a dashi stock?

Taking me by surprise once again was the fact that one of the most notable dishes we enjoyed was the bread course near the beginning. We were offered a selection of bread types (I chose the Chestnut bread) and two types of butter with a pinch of salt: one standard doux (unsalted) butter and one mixed with Cornish seaweed. I instantly gravitated to the latter and I wasn’t dissatisfied! The salty, umami creaminess was unwordly.


So being the seaweed obsessive that I am, I tried to make my own version of the butter.

I tried to keep it simple as I’m not very skilled but evidently you can make a pretty tasty version without too much effort. Not a patch on the fine work of the Greenhouse but enough for me nonetheless.


It looks a bit gross but bear with me on this one.


I took 300g butter (I chose lighter Lurpak) and mixed it throughly with a generous punch of salt and three crumbled sheets of nori seaweed.


I then put it back into the butter tub and returned it to the fridge. I’m told it will last until the original sell-by date of the butter. Maybe even a little longer because of the salt. You should also be able to freeze it.


After that it’s fairy versatile! The salty-umami combination, served chilled, is highly tantalising on bread, crackers, oatcakes or rice cakes.


It can also be used to top cooked food such as potatoes or fish.

I’m still playing around with other possibilities.


Inspired by a combination of Japanese makizushi rolls and a traditional British snack I made a triple-decker cucumber sandwich using the seaweed butter and a smear of wasabi, then cut it into small squares to serve with some martinis.

New AND retro.

My friends who normally make fun of me for serving what they term “alien food” said they were surprised to find it quite nice.

Thanks for the support guys!


I also had a go using it with scallops…


As well as in sushi. I’ll blog about these later.

Otherwise I’ll keep on experimenting but if I’m honest it’s really nice simply spread on some good quality bread!

Till the next time…

The Mermaid Inn, NYC 4.5/5

This is one of my favourite places in the world.

Oyster happy hour is a must! 

I’ve previously mentioned how well seafood goes with a martini, especially the simplistically delicate oyster, so a bar/restaurant that specialises in briny goodness was always going to get me excited.

 

However, I’ve got to focus on the martini and not get too ahead of myself.

Using my martini rating scale I award this bar and restaurant very high points: 4.5 out of 5.


I ordered a hot and dirty martini (vodka, olive brine, Tabasco sauce with a crunchy, fresh and bright red peppadew garnish). It was ice cold, salty and fiery – a perfect tongue-tantalising aperitif.


The service was fast, attentive and the staff were passionate about the food and drinks.

The setting was intimate, clean and unpretentious.


And finally, the food is fantastic with a wide variety of seasonal oysters as well as a range of sustainably sourced seafood. It’s ideal for a light bite or a more substantial meal.


The only thing I would recommend to the Mermaid Inn is that the management make more of their martinis on the menu. The restaurant does them so well I think they should promote them more prominently. I really can’t fault them in any other way.


Basically to sum up my experience, If I died suddenly and my life flashed before my eyes I hope I would linger here for just a little while en route to the next level. And I hope the next level has oyster happy hour too.

 

Don’t forget to download their useful app Oysterpedia

More martini snacks and canapes

I’m just going to leave this here…

  

What could be easier than olives and cheese-stuffed peppers that you picked up at the shops on the way home? I particularly like the colour contrast of these two. Oh and the taste.

You can’t go wrong with the lemony-buttery taste of Nocellara olive flesh, while the soft creamy cheese paired very indulgently with the sweet piccante crunch of the pepper.

  
This one was also a little bit last minute. I threw together some Bombay mix, prosciutto and olives when a friend popped round unexpectedly. The Bombay mix didn’t really go with the other two, but it’s definitely very nice on its own.

  

Here are some nuts, arranged mindlessly while I stared into space sipping my first drink of the night. Salted pistachio nuts are my favourite, although some nice big fat macadamia nuts would go well with a martini too.

  
Simple, easy, light, savoury, Twiglets are an underrated canapé snack. They are the flavour and texture opposite of the martini. Where a martini is cold, smooth, heady, citrusy and ever so slightly sweet, these are light, crunchy, salty and savoury. They don’t look particularly elegant but the flavour contrast really works. They’re a guaranteed winner for marmite fans.

  
This one is a bit more fancy. Asparagus skewers, blini with taramasalata, maki rolls, sigeumchi-namul, crisps, a martini and candles…

  
A simple but slightly more edgy snack, here are some wasabi peas with a simple classic.

  
Extremely simple, but very tasty, here is some lightly pickled baby beetroot. I’m sure we could create some kind of pink-coloured beetroot Gibson Martini, perhaps similar to the Beet Up Vesper Martini at the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town bar in central London. 


Sea Aster is a seasonal coastal plant that flowers in the summer but is edible in the spring. Wash and eat raw or lightly boil for a minute or two. I got mine at a fish monger’s in Borough Market.


Mum bought these langoustines from Tobermory Main Street while I picked up the samphire on Oban pier on a trip back from London.


There’s a whole world of tapas-style ingredients and food types you could use. Above you can see chorizo, cold roast pork slices, feta cheese, olives, bread, houmous, oil  and duqqah.


You can turn the nibbles into your whole meal and really take your time with the martini. Above you can see crab open sandwiches, nuts, wood ear mushrooms, Korean-style spinach, roasted vegetables, seaweed, manchego cheese, Bombay mix, olives, bread, oil and houmous all to be slowly munched while you sip your cold gin.


Houmous is a relaxed martini accompaniment to have at home with informal company over a drink.


Here it is served with sliced pitta bread and a variety of mostly Mediterranean snacks.


My kind neighbour made me some lovely Middle Eastern sweets which I included in the meal.

The Arabic element of the food was especially good at soaking up some of the alcohol!


Dim sum was a surprisingly good – if slightly unconventional accompaniment.


Oysters are my favourite.


I also love creamy manchego cheese.


Finally though, the most classical martini snack will always remain the pitted green olive. If it’s all you have, you’ll be fine. And you won’t spoil your appetite for dinner.

More Izakaya dishes


As I’ve previously mentioned, I love Izakaya culture.

  
So here are some more izakaya-inspired dishes to accompany a martini.

  
This is very simple: grill sweet potato in oil with a sprinkling of salt until ready. I was drinking a martini when I made this so I can’t remember how long it was in the oven for. 20 minutes? Who knows. There’s a reason I blog about martinis and not food recipes. 

  

Salmon ceviche is Izakaya-esque and goes very well with a martini. Prepared in advance and it’s very easy to assemble during drink o’clock.

 

Comparable to ceviche is the Japanese dish shime saba (lightly pickled mackerel) here served with some very rustic but tasty ritz crackers and guacamole (I mashed an avocado with coriander/cilantro, salt, pepper, tomato purée, garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice). All of the above went very well with the martini. 
 
 Skewers are easy. Chop the ingredients (tofu and spring onions above), thread onto wooden skewers, brush with oil and maybe some salt, pepper or a sauce/glaze of your choice. Chuck them in the oven for a few minutes while you pour the martinis then whip them out when they’re ready.

  
As well as potentially making unusual garnishes, the hot skewers contrast nicely with an ice cold martini.

  

The tofu skewers involved a little extra batter to get them nice and crunchy on the outside, and goey on the middle – instructions here.

  
Thin spinach omelette (tamago), folded then sliced.


Grilled shiitake mushrooms make a nice umami nibble.


This is a whole meal. Salmon onigiri, grilled squash noodles, nori, sigeumchi-namul, salad, miso and err… Twiglets.


When I grilled the salmon to put in the onigiri, I grilled the skin separately with a light sprinkling of salt, cut it into squares and served it as a martini nibble as you see here.


Here is some shime saba (pickled mackerel) nigiri served in Yo!Sushi (a British-born Japanese conveyor belt sushi restaurant). If only they served martinis as well! Oh wait, I’m glad they don’t. I would never leave.


Here is some tuna chirashi-zushi I made at home with tamago, cucumber and pickles.


Flash fried scallops, then chilled in a garlic and ginger marinade, served with boiled and salted samphire. These went well with the martini. 


Tuna maki and crab futomaki rolls. Probably better to be eaten after a martini as an actual meal but they were an okay accompaniment nonetheless. I need to work on my makisu rolling skills…


And finally, the traditional izakaya dish, the croquette potato – korokke. Hot, crunchy and savoury, they go very well in an izakaya meal and with a martini.