Sunday, 30 October 2011


And now for something completely different: Okonomiyaki!

Okonomiyaki is a traditional Japanese dish sometimes, due to lack of a more accurate description, called Japanese pizza. It's a surprisingly easy dish to make, and you can put pretty much whatever you want in there.

This is how I make okonomiyaki.

Ingredients (enough for 4-5 people):
-> 230g flour - I use ca 180g potato flour and 50g wholemeal flour, but you could just add regular flour if you want. The potato flour helps make it sticky so you might want to add a bit of potato flour even if you mostly use regular flour.
-> 300ml water - you can also use chicken or fish stock if you want.
-> 3 eggs
-> ½ cabbage
-> 200g shrimps or prawns - I use garlic and parsley marinated prawns.
-> 1/3 leek
-> Anything else you want to add. If you don't like shripms you can use pork instead, or if you like both, why not have both? You can add mushrooms or any type of vegetables, and you are supposed to add bacon on top as well, but I forgot to buy it, so we'll have to do without.

Condiments/toppings - these go on top of the "base" after it's been cooked.
-> Kewpie mayo
-> Okonomiyaki brown sauce
-> Bonito flakes (fish flakes) - However, I forgot to buy this as well, so for this recipe I've used fish rousong, which unfortunately didn't work quite as well. It worked, but I recommend buying bonito flakes.
-> Aonori (seaweed flakes)

LinkFrom left to right: kewpie mayo, okonomiyaki sauce, aonori, sakura denbu (fish rousong). All of these can be bought at Japan Centre in London, who also deliver.

Add the flour and the water in a bowl and mix well. Mix in the eggs. Then add the vegetables and prawns (and anything else you might want to add) and mix gently.

Divide up the mix into 2 or 3 batches. Heat up a little oil in a pan. When the pan is heated up, pour one batch into the pan and flatten it out until it is round and even. If you want to use bacon, put the bacon strips on top of the mixture. Cook it on medium heat for 5 minutes, then flip it and cook it on the other side for 5 minutes. Then put it on a big plate and add the toppings. Do this for all batches. Now it's ready to be shared and eaten.

Best enjoyed together with miso soup and cold mugen (barley) tea.

Seriously good stuff.


Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Slaytanic Cheese Bread

If you're bored on a day off and there's nothing on TV that you haven't seen before other than Nigerian soap operas (we've all been there), why not have a go at baking your own bread?  It truly is one of life's great pleasures - I'd put it right up there with pressing the button at the zebra crossing so that the cars all have to stop and then just walking off.

Home-made bread is a thing of beauty, and it provides a great opportunity to experiment with different flavours, such as this cheesy monstrosity.  Nice crunchy crust and soft moist centre - job done.  Best enjoyed in nice thick slices with loads of butter while it's still warm.

  • 650g strong white bread flour
  • Pinch of salt (not too much)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • About 300g extra mature cheddar, grated
  • 1 tsp English mustard
  • 7g packet of dried yeast
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Jug of warm water
  1. Mix your dry ingredients and mustard together in the biggest bowl you've got (sieve the flour in).  Create a well in the centre and add a little water.  Mix it in with your hands.  Keep doing this until you've got a big ball of dough.  If it's really too wet then add a little more flour, but don't go too crazy as a dry dough is a crap dough.  Knead it in the bowl using your palm heel for about 10 minutes (this avoids the need to make a load more mess on your worktop), really stretching it out, then make some slashes in the top (such as my awesome pentagram pattern above), cover the bowl with cling film and leave it in a warm place for about an hour so that it can rise.
  2. Preheat your oven to 220 degrees.  When you're happy with the size of your dough, put it on a baking tray in the oven with a pan full of water on the shelf below - this will keep the bread moist in the middle.  After about half an hour, your bread should be ready - test it by tapping the bottom to see if it sounds hollow.
  3. Let it cool down for about fifteen minutes before you dive in.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

On proper cooking

Recently a couple of friends and I had the idea of getting together to write a student cookbook and see if we could get it published.  That project now seems to be on hiatus while we all deal with unexpectedly busy periods in our lives.  But something occurred to me in the preliminary stages that, to my mind, highlights a problem with the way most of us look at food that sometimes holds us back from cooking decent meals and experiencing the pleasure and health benefits that go with it.

If you go into a bookshop and look at the cookery section, you will notice that vast swathes of it have titles like "[Insert foreign food type here] Made Easy" and "Retard-Proof Student Cooking - Recipes with just two ingredients!".  The selling tactic they use is to perpetuate the myth that basic home cooking is something we're not capable of and we need them to give us simpler alternatives.  And it's not just in the cookbooks either - our fear of proper cooking is played upon by processed food manufacturers eager to sell us some new gimmicky product.  I feel that this is a particular problem in the UK, because although we have all these TV chefs going on about how great our produce is and how proud we should be, the reality as I see it is that eating properly in the way that most other countries do is still a bit of a niche interest here.  Supermarkets are still steamrolling independent butchers and greengrocers, and even our chain "restaurants" and gastropubs are guilty of cutting corners at times.

But home cooking really isn't all that complicated in the first place.  It's a bit trite for anyone who's ever seen an episode of Kitchen Nightmares, but it bears repeating: get good quality ingredients and you will be able to make nice home food without either mucking about or having to resort to processed sauces in jars.  You don't need to be at Michelin Star levels - if you can make bangers and mash properly then you will be surprised at how impressed your friends will be in comparison to the crap they probably eat most of the time.  Most classic recipes, in fact, are fairly straightforward, as it's not all about poncey restaurant cooking.  So if you want tomato sauce for pasta, do what the Italians do and get some tinned tomatoes, garlic and herbs and chuck it all in a pan - it doesn't take any longer or cost any more.  If you want oven chips, cut up some potatoes, part-boil them for a few minutes and then roast them in the oven.  It's a small investment for a big return.

Shepherd's Pie with Ultimash

Shepherd's pie is like Top Gear - you've seen every incarnation a million times before, you know it's not aiming for the stars, but you don't care because, at the end of the day, nothing entertains you more.  Except maybe lap dancing.

Shepherd's pie is one of my all-time favourite dishes.  It won't win Michelin stars, but it's a simple and delicious way to take care of dinner for your family or a few of your mates - make extra as they will want seconds.  It relies on a simple but effective combination of comforting earthy flavours - and in a climate like ours, you need as much of that as you can get!  The mashed potato here is cooked with the skin on ("madness!" I hear you cry) to keep all of the flavour in, and when it's on top of the pie it starts to dissolve into the gravy to thicken it.  Use good quality mince, and English people, please resist the temptation to smother it in instant Bisto crap!


  • 800g good minced lamb
  • 1 x large white onion
  • 2 x proper-sized garlic cloves
  • 2 x large carrots
  • 3 fairly large Maris Piper potatoes
  • 2 tbsps mustard
  • A few sprigs of rosemary or thyme, tied together with an elastic band
  • 500ml good lamb or chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • A few small chunks of butter, according to taste
  • Splash of milk
  1. Clean your potatoes, then put them in a saucepan with cold water.  Boil for 45 minutes-1 hour until the potatoes are cooked through.
  2. Pour the vegetable oil into a hot pan.  Season the mince and season it in batches.  Let the mince drain into a bowl and reserve the lamb fat - this will stop your pie from getting too greasy.  If you need any extra fat in the pan at any point, use the reserved lamb fat rather than more vegetable oil as it will add extra flavour.
  3. Peel and roughly dice the onion and carrots into little chunks and cook them in the pan until the onions have softened and the carrots are golden.  Add some more seasoning.  Chuck in the garlic and a little bit of butter.  When the garlic is fragrant, put the meat back in, mix it all together and add the stock and the herbs.  Bring it to the boil, then cover and simmer for about an hour and a half until it's thickened.  Stir it occasionally.
  4. Your potatoes will probably be ready before the meat is done unless you're an idiot, so use this time to drain and mash them.  Cover one hand with a clean tea towel and use the other hand to peel the potatoes with a knife.  Put them back in the saucepan when they're done, either on a VERY low heat (gas) or just on the ring it was cooking on (electric) so that some of the water can evaporate.  Season and add butter and a bit of mustard, then a little drop of milk at a time until you have a smooth creamy mash.
  5. Stick the oven on at 190 degrees.  When the meat sauce is done, transfer it to a pie dish, discard the herbs and cover with the mashed potato.  Use a fork to score little peaks in the mash that will go crispy and brown.  Transfer the whole thing to the oven for about 25 minutes until the top is golden brown.