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!

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…

Asparagus skewers to accompany a martini

  
This is dead easy.

  
Asparagus is tasty and a bit of a luxury so it naturally pairs well with a martini. I love its distinctive flavour, visual appeal and most of all, its satisfying fresh and crunchy texture.

  
My brother and I were having a martini before dinner, but after we had drunk the first one we really just wanted to have another one and postpone the food. Not to miss out on our nutrition (you can’t live on gin and olives…) I decided to take the vegetables we were going to eat and martini-fy them.

  

Inspired by this Izakaya-style spring onion recipe I cut each asparagus spear into three pieces and threaded them onto some bamboo skewers.

   
I added them to boiling water and cooked them for 4.5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt a knob of butter in a frying pan with about half a tablespoon of soy sauce, half a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of pepper. You could also add a splash of mirin or sweet vermouth. 

  
I then removed the skewers from the water and shook them to discard any excess. I added them to the frying pan with the sauce and simmered them for about 30 seconds, tossing the skewers to coat them in the sauce.

  
Serve and pour over the excess sauce.

  
Reward yourself with another martini, which you can make while the asparagus is boiling and the butter is melting.

The French call the asparagus tips “points d’amour”. Apparently Madame de Pompadour was a fan.

 

She’s also at the top of my list of people I’d like to have a martini with so I hope she would approve of the recipe.
  
Humans have been consuming asparagus for thousands of years. 

Harvesting the plant has been depicted in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The Romans even had a phrase “quicker than you can prepare asparagus” which serves as a reminder of how rapidly you can create this dish.

  
It’s also been described as an aphrodisiac in the past.

I’m not sure about the science behind that one so I’d recommend sticking to oysters.

  
But let’s be honest, if you’re sharing a martini with your amour you might not need an aphrodisiac at all.

Shime Saba (pickled mackerel sushi)

I love mackerel.  

You’ve got to eat it fresh, it looks beautiful, it tastes really strong and it reminds me of fun times trying to catch them in the summer from a very young age.

   
I also love sashimi, or meat and seafood that is lightly cured, smoked or marinaded rather than cooked outright.

So here is a simple recipe for preparing mackerel to eat, without the use of a cooker.

  
You will need:

  • 2 mackerel fillets
  • 4tbsps salt and an extra pinch or so
  • 240ml clear vinegar (preferably rice vinegar)
  • 20ml vermouth (optional)
  • 1tbsp mirin

  

  • Put the mackerel fillets in a container and cover them with the 4tbsp salt, making sure that no parts are left uncovered on either side.

  

  • Transfer the fillets to a sieve and place it over some sort of container to catch any of the liquid that the salt will draw out.
  • If you’re left with any salt in the container sprinkle it over the top of the fillets.
  • Leave the fillets on the sieve for an hour then carefully take each one and rinse it under a cold water tap.
  • Make sure the tap is not set on high pressure or you could damage the fillet.
  • Carefully dry off the fillets with kitchen towel.
  • Find a sealable container. It should be able to hold the two fillets and when filled with the liquid mixture you are about to make it should cover both the fillets.
  • Mix together the vinegar, mirin, optional vermouth and extra pinch or two of salt.
  • Stir so that the salt dissolves.
  • Pour a little of the mixture into the sealable container.
  • Lay the fillets in the container flat, side by side then pour over the rest of the vinegar mixture.
  • Seal the container and put it in the fridge for 3 hours.

  

  • Take the fillets out of the container and carefully dry them with kitchen towel once again.
  • You will notice that the flesh has become more firm, almost as if the fish has been cooked.
  • It feels like a drier version of ceviche.
  • The next step can be quite satisfying once you get over the fiddly bit at the beginning.

  

  • Start at the top end of the fish and find yourself a bit of the skin to hold on to. It’s sort of like trying to peel back a new piece of sellotape.
  • Once you’ve peeled back a bit, gently pull the skin off all the way along the fillet.
  • Some of the iridescence will inevitably come off but don’t worry. This is normal.

  

  • Next, turn the fillets flesh-side up.
  • Look carefully and feel along the middle groove of the fillet for any bones.
  • Gently but firmly use a pair of tweezers to pull the buggers out.
  • This task is less satisfying than peeling off the skin but it’s worth it, if you want to avoid having to give (or receive!) the Heimlich manoeuvre later on.
  • The fillet is now ready for the final serving stage.
  • There are several options here. It could be served as a simple sashimi piece, it could be pressed onto sushi rice to make battera or sliced into sticks and made into maki rolls.
  • For this post I opted for a low-carb option and served it as a simple sashimi.

  

  • I sliced the fillet into 4-5mm pieces, with a thin groove cut deep into the middle of each one.
  • This groove allows the fish to soak up a little more sauce when you dip it.

  

  • You can serve it like so with chopsticks and some dipping sauce.
  • Soy sauce on its own is fine but for Shime Saba’s strong, oily taste I like to mix half soy sauce with half fresh lemon juice.
  • I also served the mackerel here with cucumber tsukemono, grated fresh ginger (to help cut through the oily fish) and some simple shredded spring onion, with a dab of wasabi.
  • Note that this is a very nutritious dish. It’s a much better drinks accompaniment than crisps or peanuts!

 

  •  You can also serve it as a lunch or other meal.
  • It keeps for at least a day in a sealed refrigerated container.
  • I love how the blue skin colour contrasts with the salad.

  

  • You can also serve the shime saba with small slices of lemon between each piece.
  • Not only do the colours contrast nicely but again, the sharp citrusy lemon cuts against the oily fish. And what else goes well with lemon and seafood?
  • Obviously a martini. I would recommend a classic martini with lemon peel, not olives.
  • Alternatively you could try my nice winter warmer the Japanese Pickled Ginger martini.

Beef yakitori snacks

  
I had a couple of people round for a catch up (over drinks of course).

I was trying to think of something quick and I easy I could feed them between martini drinking when I came across some beef mince on special offer at the supermarket.

I bought a kilogram and decided to make yakitori, a type of Japanese skewer kebab, inspired by izakaya/yakitori-bar type food.

I made the following recipe:

  

  • Soak several bamboo skewers in water overnight.
  • Peel and finely chop a thumb-sized piece of ginger and add it to a large bowl.
  • Finely chop 8 spring onions and add them to the bowl.
  • I added a splodge of garlic paste.
  • I then added 4 eggs and stirred them lightly with a fork to break them up.
  • I then added a tablespoon of plain flour and a teaspoon of cornflour.
  • Next, I tipped in the mince and mixed it all up with my hands.  This is both a hugely satisfying task but also horrifically messy.  Thoroughly wash your hands both before and after.

  

  • I made the mince mixture into little balls, around 3.5cm in diameter.

  

  • I then threaded them onto the bamboo skewers. I put three on each but this will depend on the size of your skewers.

  

I then mixed a glaze:

  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tsp mirin
  • 2 tsp runny honey
  • 1 tsp vinegar from the pickled ginger jar (balsamic or even ordinary vinegar would be fine as well I’m sure)
  • A dash or Worcestershire sauce
  • Stir in the ingredients in a bowl then microwave for 20 seconds.
  • I then put the grill on 200 degrees C and threw in the yakitori for about 8 minutes.

  

  • Remove the yakitori from the grill.
  • Use a pastry brush to coat the top layer with the glaze.
  • Gently turn the yakitori over so that the less-cooked side is facing upwards.
  • Coat the newly exposed sides and put back into the oven for about 8 more minutes or until thoroughly cooked.

I served them immediately with a simple dipping sauce (2 parts soy sauce 1 part rice vinegar).

You can sprinkle over some more chopped spring onions if you can be bothered. It adds a nice contrasting colour.

Otherwise best consumed when tipsy. It would go particularly nicely with a Pickled Ginger Martini.

    A martini with sage

    This is a very simple recipe for a snack that may or may not taste like fragrant Pringles made for the Gods…

     

    While coriander is my favourite herb (controversial, I know), I also love sage.

    I previously made a sage-infused gin which goes nicely in a gin and tonic. 

      

    However, this sage recipe is very easy and infinitely faster than making an infusion.

      

    Instructions

    • Pick around 8 sage leaves per person (or more if they’re small or if you want to eat a lot).
    • Fry them (potentially in batches) in salted butter on a high heat for about 2-3 minutes.
    • The butter should be foaming but be careful not to burn it (remove it from the heat if this starts to happen).
    • The leaves are ready when they’re crispy with tinges of brown colouring.
    • Serve immediately and eat with your fingers (although you can use a fork or chopsticks if you prefer).
    • Save the leftover butter to pour over food (like potatoes), perhaps if you have a meal after your martini and snack.

      
    And there you go. It’s like eating fragrant, salty, crunchy air that slides over your tongue. It’s particularly satisfying if you’ve grown the herbs yourself.

      
    And obviously these delicious, simple but slightly unusual snacks go very well with a martini…

    Martinis y tapas

      
    Having spent an amazing weekend in Madrid I thought I would write about the drinking culture in the city and see what inspiration I could draw from a martini perspective.

      

    Los Madrileños know how to have fun – without feeling guilty, without getting stressed and without getting post-apocalyptically drunk. If you feel like having a drink or having something to eat then do so. If you feel like having a nap then do so. The time of day is irrelevant. You shouldn’t feel bad for doing what your body is telling you to do. Eating, drinking and sleeping when you please might sound unhealthy but these people certainly don’t look unhealthy!

      
    Another conclusion is that alcohol is much better when accompanied by food.

    Tapas or pinchos/pintxos (pronounced peen-chose) are small bites of food that accompany your drink. The adage “eating’s cheating” has few followers in Madrid and I am a faithful convert to the city’s attitude towards eating with booze. I always serve nibbles with my martinis but maybe we should be serving food with all alcohol. It’s not the most radical concept – it’s common practise in many countries (Sri Lanka for example).

    If you are unconvinced about eating with your drinks then perhaps I can persuade you with some examples of the sorts of things you could enjoy with your booze.

       

    Here is a mind-blowingly tasty assortment of morcilla (a spanish variation of black pudding) with apple, balsamic vinegar glaze and fried potato straws, accompanied with octopus and whole grain mustard ice cream. Yes. Mustard ice cream. Yes.

      
    However, if this is too fancy just order your drink (such as a caños of beer which isn’t as much as a full pint) with something as simple as a piece of bread with a topping. Drink, taste and relax. It’s not a race to finish your drink in order to buy the next round.

      

    Fried calamari is common. Ham, cheese and olives also feature highly.

      

    There are many expert voices on the subject of tapas so this amateur is not going to bluff you, but of the stories that surround its history I have a favourite. According to my friend, at a point in its history Spain was undergoing a drought and food production was low. The people resorted to drinking more alcohol to make up for their lost calories, but this led to widespread malaise and drunkenness. A troubled king, seeking a solution, ordered establishments to serve simple bread and toppings over the top of alcohol glasses (the word tapas comes from the Spanish verb tapar – to cover). When eaten this would soak up some of the alcohol, reduce drunkenness and help feed the population. A cultural trend was born. 

    Like martinis, there are several competing stories surrounding the historical origins of tapas. Without a time machine to verify which version is accurate the only thing you can do is believe in your favourite.

     Whatever the true origins of tapas there have been an infinite multitude of variations since its creation. Tapas now even extends to airline food, as demonstrated above.

    For me, the most important concept is that the sharing of tapas is very sociable.

      It can be fairly hands-on; you might be called upon to mash your own guacamole.

     
    It can also be very simple. Above is a delicious dish of peppers fried with salt. 
    So what can we take from this fine Spanish contribution to human culture to try and improve the martini experience?

    Snacks, bites and nibbles are a very important part of a martini so tapas can provide a wealth of inspiration for anyone looking to serve theirs with some added Latin panache.

    The main point, however, is about relaxing and sharing good flavours, drinks and conversation with friends, family, lovers etc.

      

    If you can get that right then everything else should fall into place – ojala.

     
    But as a word of warning, don’t drink so much you end up naked on the ground in Plaza de Colón in the middle of the day, although evidently if you do you won’t be the first…

    The Peruvian Tiger’s Milk Martini (con Leche de Tigre)

    I was once accused of being “an evil agent” working for the Chilean government to sabotage the reputation of Peru…  a little unforeseen side effect of my unusual career in the murky world of intelligence. Nonetheless, despite the attempted slander I am a firm fan of Peruvian cuisine and drinking culture. I love Pisco and prefer a Pisco Sour over most other cocktails.

    Seafood plays a big role in some of the more distinctive dishes originating in Peru. Acclaimed Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa seems to use a lot of Peruvian-inspired recipes and I’ve had one or two delightful dishes in some of the Latin American restaurants in south London. So I decided to have a go myself. I made a very simple ceviche using a fresh salmon fillet, cut into pieces and left submerged in a tub containing the juice of three lemons, a chopped onion, a handful of chopped coriander, a chopped chilli and a dash of Sriracha sauce for five hours. I was slightly nervous about it, imagining that I would create some sort of monstrous fish-stinking disaster. However, when I served the fish it smelt fresh and zesty with a lovely silken texture like sashimi. Obviously you don’t need to cook the fish so it’s pretty easy after you’ve assembled everything.

    

    Anyway I’m rambling. Here it is, served with the marinade in a shot glass. This is known as Leche de Tigre (Tiger’s milk) and is drunk as a shot. Apparently it’s an aphrodisiac; I found it refreshing and spicy.

    So obviously I turned it into a martini. I couldn’t find anyone online who had done this before so here is my recipe:

    1 measure of vermouth

    1 measure of Leche de Tigre

    4 measures of gin or vodka

    Pour and stir. I served it without a garnish. It went down very well: I like a spicy martini but this one also had a really heady citrus kick to it as well. I really wasn’t sure whether or not any of this would work, the ceviche or the martini but I’m pleased to report that it was both very easy and tasty!

    So, dear Peru, I’m not an evil agent of the Chilean government trying to bring you down. I’m very fond of your cuisine. Salud!

    The Laura Santtini Umami Martini

    Laura Santtini is a London-based chef with a recipe book that changed the way I looked at food. She describes herself as the genetic equivalent of a Molotov cocktail: half Italian, quarter Persian, pinch of Sephardic and then an English-Irish mix. Her recipe book is full of things you can prepare in a matter of minutes (ie before your friends get to your home via the tube after work) yet you can present them with a simplistic yet explosive flair that says “oh it’s just something I threw together before you got here” but looks and tastes like restaurant quality cuisine.

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    Laura Santtini’s book “Flash Cooking” gave me the confidence to entertain guests at home. Which has had a profound impact on this blog, because it means I can give people martinis, then serve them dinner when they are no longer able to use their legs to walk to a restaurant. Well done Laura, and thank you.

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    Ms. Santtini has also produced a very fine condiment: Taste 5 Umami Paste. I usually rub it on food items to marinade them, although one of my friends likes to just eat the stuff for the flavour itself. Praise indeed.

    Having previously added Worcestershire Sauce to a martini for a taste of salty umami I thought I might try the same with the Taste 5 Umami paste, not least as an experiment that my aforementioned friend might like. I took a pea-sized globule of the paste and muddled it into a measure of vermouth, then topped it up with gin and stirred.

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    I didn’t use a garnish this time round but I could suggest the following as good pairings for the umami flavour:

    A twist of lemon
    An olive stuffed with garlic
    An olive stuffed with anchovy (for double, nay triple umami)
    A sprig of Rosemary
    Watercress
    A slice of cucumber

    Disclaimer: the following photograph contains no martini.

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    Be sure to rub the sauce on some meat or fish to marinade before you fry it.