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St Patrick’s Day Okonomiyaki

okonomiyakiI have no idea what the adjective for Irish-Japanese fusion food is, but we need one. Both Ireland and Japan love a bit of cabbage and seaweed (and whiskey). Their cuisines have more in common than you’d think.

This idea came from Mister North who having seen the design for Recipes from Brixton Village on mentions the recipes he is most excited by as he reads. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake made primarily from cabbage, but the number of spring onions (or more accurately scallions) in it made him think it overlapped with the Northern Irish delicacy of champ.

Since okonomiyaki means ‘as you like it’ I wondered if I could make a champ based version for St Patrick’s Day. I have grown to love okonomiyaki after Motoko Priestman opened Okan in Brixton Village, dishing up a variety of okonomiyaki in the Osaka style. My favourite is the mochi and cheese, but this is a little like choosing your favourite pet or child as they are all fabulous in their own way.

There are few more filling and healthy lunches than an okonomiyaki making it perfect for fortifying one’s self if you’ve had a few swallies the night before. I’ve gone stereotypically Irish here with bacon, cabbage and scallions. Annoyingly I was seaweed-less but some nori or dulse on top would have been perfect. I also varied from the usual topping of mayonnaise to use a creamy buttermilk dressing and omitted the typical okonomiyaki or ‘burnt sauce’ that tastes like ketchup combined with HP sauce.

St Patrick’s Day Okonomiyaki (adapted from Recipes from Brixton Village)

Serves 1

  • 50g pancetta or bacon cubes
  • 150g sweetheart cabbage, shredded finely
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 50g potato, grated
  • 50g plain flour
  • pinch sea salt
  • pinch brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 50-75ml water
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 tablespoon buttermilk or yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
  • salt and pepper
  • seaweed flakes to serve

Okonomiyaki usually has toppings like thinly sliced squid, belly pork, prawns or cheese which are cooked as the pancake itself cooks, but because I only had thick cubes of bacon, I’ve cooked them first as they might still have been raw otherwise. Pan fry until crisp round the edges.

Shred the cabbage in very thin slices and then break it up into individual shreds with your hands into a large bowl. Add the cooked bacon and any fat from the pan. Thinly slice the scallions and add in. Beat the egg into it all. Set aside.

Take a skillet or heavy pan and heat on a high heat for about 3-4 minutes while you make the batter. Don’t add the oil at this point.

Prepare your batter by grating the potato in a bowl and adding the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Crack the egg into it and beat it in. Add enough of the water to make the whole thing a soft and pourable batter. Stir quickly but without overmixing. Pour 3/4s of the batter into the cabbage and bacon and mix lightly. Set the rest of the batter aside.

Add the oil in the pan and turn it down to a medium-low heat. Put the cabbage batter into the pan, smoothing it out from a heap to a thick pancake. Don’t push it right down to knock the air out. Cook the okonomiyaki for about 3 minutes.

Pour the remaining batter on top of it all. This would usually help seal the toppings into the okonomiyaki. Carefully flip the okonomiyaki over and cook on the other side for about 2-3 minutes. The base of the okonomiyaki will be quite dark from the hot pan but you want the top a bit paler.

Serve on a plate, paler side up and drizzle with the buttermilk dressing. Sprinkle with the seaweed flakes and a few spare scallion slices if you have them. Eat immediately and experience the perfect cross between a pancake, boxty and a potato farl. You may fancy a wee stout on the side. I had good strong tea instead.

Recipes from Brixton Village - front cover

Recipes from Brixton Village will be published on May 22nd 2014 from independent bookshops and the Kitchen Press website. It can be pre-ordered now for delivery as soon as it’s published.

Tadpoles in the Hole

toad in the hole

It’s been cold and grey recently with even snow on the ground and a chill in the air and I’ve wanted warm, filling food, rich with carbs and comfort to see me through. A recent trip to Waitrose to get ox cheek from their butchery counter to make Mister North’s famous tongue and cheek pudding also resulted in the purchase of a lovely jar of beef dripping and so my mind immediately thought of Yorkshire puddings or a proper toad in the hole. But sadly my house was sausage-less and I thought such delights would have to wait for another day when I suddenly thought ‘could you make it with meatballs instead?’

My dinner companion assured me that would work very nicely indeed and because he’s wittier than me, named it Tadpoles in the Hole before I’d even rolled my sleeves up to roll the meatballs. How could you not want to eat a meal with a name like that? The oven went on to get lovely and hot to make sure my batter rose well and I turned my attention to the meatballs.

I used turkey mince for mine as it was the first draw on my game of freezer roulette, but any relatively lean meat would work well. I mixed the meat with some breadcrumbs and added lemon zest and tarragon as I had both to hand, but your seasonings here are only limited by your imagination. Some chilli would have been just the ticket here actually and I do love black olives and parmesan in a meatball. Whatever you go for, roll your meatballs nice and small so you get one in every bite of batter and chill for at least half an hour first. You’ll also need to leave your batter to sit for about this long so plan ahead slightly and then this is a very simple dish to assemble and cook.

It also works fabulously well with a caramelised onion gravy which if you have a bit of extra time to spare, but is extremely good served naked as well. I tend to slow cook a big batch of onions at a time and then freeze them in portions so you don’t need to wait on them turning sticky sweet and golden every time you need them.

Tadpoles in the Hole (serves 4)

For the meatballs:

  • 250g lean mince
  • 125g breadcrumbs
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 25g chopped tarragon
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten

For the batter:

  • 200g plain flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 150ml milk
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 2 tablespoon beef dripping

For the gravy:

  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 25g butter
  • pinch demarara sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 300ml stock (vegetable or animal, depending on your meat choice)
  • 100ml vermouth or wine (replace with more stock if you don’t have any)
  • generous dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • seasoning

Start with your onions for the gravy. Slice them into half moons and cook in the butter on a low heat for about 30 minutes on a low heat or until soft and just starting to colour. If there is liquid coming off them, drain it and keep for the gravy as it’s pure onion flavour. Add in the sugar and leave to cook for about another 45 minutes. They need no attention (I went off and watched an episode of Breaking Bad which meant I wouldn’t have noticed the kitchen going on fire) but to properly caramelise an onion til jammy and golden takes time. If you do extra, they freeze well and take only a few seconds in a microwave to defrost.

Try not to become utterly fixated by the do it yourself meth trade while your onions are cooking, and start on your batter instead. Resting it really does make a difference, making it much lighter and fluffier and rise better. I presume this is something to do with the gluten. But I like to think it’s a reward for patience. The batter is easy, put everything but the beef dripping into a bowl and mix til the consistency of double cream. The odd slight bump in the batter doesn’t matter as mixing it too much can make it flop. Leave to rest on the worktop til needed.

Your meatballs also like a rest before dinner and are similarly simple. I love rolling them, I find it very relaxing and the longer you chill them for the less they fall apart when cooking. They are so easy to make, it’s also worth doing a freezer batch while you’re there. Basically put everything but the egg in a bowl and mash together well with your hands to combine everything. Then add the egg a bit at a time, making sure the mix isn’t too wet and mix well. Then roll about a fork’s worth at a time into a meatball and chill til needed. Doing them with this proportion of breadcrumbs makes them very light and stretches the meat a longer way making this great value.

raw meatballs

When you’re ready to eat, put the meatballs in your dish and add the dripping and heat for at least ten minutes or until it is smoking hot. Hot fat may be mildly terrifying, but it’s the secret of a pillowy billowing batter. Pour your batter in carefully from the edge so you don’t cause the meatballs to float and pop into the oven as fast as possible and leave it to cook for 40 minutes. On pain of death, don’t open your oven door again before then or you’ll end up with a giant pancake with meatballs poking out forlornly.

Make your gravy about 10 minutes before by adding the plain flour to the buttery onions and cook til quite dry. Then add in the warm stock, including those onion juices and the wine if using, and stir until it starts to thicken. Season and add the Worcestershire sauce. Add more liquid if you like it less thick. This gravy can be adapted to be veggie or vegan if you use oil and tamari instead if you need a meat free gravy at some point.

When your tadpoles are completely cooked and the hole is puffy and golden and slightly quivering with its own self importance, serve big slices of it with lashing of gravy and heaps of peas (garden or mushy) on the side and give fervent thanks for cold weather. As comforting as eating a hot water bottle, this is deliciously decadent with the meat to batter ratio and a great twist on a old favourite. It’s just as well we’ve got a north wind coming in…

portion

 

Blackened corn chowder with deep fried bacon

Blackened corn chowder & deep fried bacon

I adore sweetcorn in soup. I love those corn soups thickened with egg in Chinese restaurants and every year when the cobs are in season I make the divine chicken and sweetcorn soup from the first Leon cookbook, all sweet with corn and sticky with marinaded chicken. But this year I had branched out a bit and been using the first ears for salsa. I’d roasted them on the barbecue til smoky and tossed them with scallion and avocado and lots of lime and watched my dinner guests not scrap over the last spoonful.

Making the most of my glowing coals last weekend, I did some sweet potatoes on the embers and charred as much corn as I had in the house, setting it all aside for a less sunny day when I wanted the flavour of summer. It didn’t take long and by Wednesday I needed to be reminded it was August and turned my attention to the leftovers and immediately thought of a summer soup…

Bacon and corn are natural bedfellows, but I wanted this soup to be easily meat free if you baulk at battered bacon or don’t want to use chicken stock, so the bacon tops it and the stock can be vegetable based. I’d top it with avocado in this case and add some hot sauce to the soup.

Blackened corn chowder with battered bacon (serves two)

  • 2 ears sweetcorn
  • 2 orange fleshed sweet potatoes
  • 2 scallions
  • 200ml stock
  • 100 ml milk
  • 4 rashers of streaky bacon
  • 50g self raising flour
  • 50g rice flour (or all self raising if you don’t have rice flour)
  • 150ml ice cold sparkling water
  • pinch cayenne
  • milk to cover
  • oil for frying

First blacken your corn. The best way to do this is roast them over the barbecue, but you could parboil the ears and then pass through a gas flame or under a smoking hot grill until charred in places. Leave to cool until you can handle the corn and then strip the kernels off with a sharp knife.

If you are using vegetable stock, chop the ears in half and simmer in with your veg to make a super corn-infused stock for the soup.

While that’s doing, cut your bacon rashers in half across the way so you have twice the number of pieces and then cover them with a bit of milk. This will help the batter stick to the bacon and not just slide off in the hot oil.

Chop your scallion and sweat in a bit of oil. If the sweet potato is raw, chop it small and sweat too. Then add in the corn and just cover the veg with stock (you may need less than the amount stated) and simmer until everything is tender. Then take a third of the soup out and blend the remaining, adding the milk as you do. Add the chunky third back in and warm the soup gently.

Put your oil on to heat and make your batter by combining the two flours and the water and cayenne to make a thick, but not solid batter. The rice flour and sparkling water will make the batter very light and puffy, making sure the rashers cook quickly and without becoming shatteringly crisp. Lift the rashers out of the milk and into the batter and then into the oil. The batter puffs and spits slightly but a minute each side should do it. Drain on kitchen roll.

Serve bowls of warm soup with two rashers of bacon on top. The soup is sweet with the veg and the salty slightly spicy bacon cuts through it beautifully. Everything tastes so summery and the bacon is amazing. Cooked til tender enough to split the rasher with a spoon’s edge and crunchy with batter, you’ll want your bacon deep fried every time, not just when the sweetcorn is in season!

 

Wise yer bap… put pasties on them!

Growing up reciting the Lord’s Prayer everyday at school, it made perfect sense that we asked to be given our daily bread. Belfast is a city of bakeries and practically every meal, including our famous Ulster Fry, combines bread in some shape or form. In fact, the city even gives its name to the world famous crusty Belfast Bap.

Perfect filled with anything, mainly fried goods, this humble bread roll has an illustrious past. Invented by master baker, cross community pioneer and philanthropist Barney Hughes in the 1840s, it is credited with feeding the city during the Famine and ensuring it wasn’t as badly affected as many other parts of Ireland, paving the way for it to become one of the great industrial centres of the Empire, famed especially for shipbuilding, including the Titanic.

The Belfast bap is still baked daily back in Northern Ireland, forming the basis of many a meal. There’s few things that don’t taste better stuffed into a buttery Belfast bap. In fact, a crisp sandwich isn’t a crisp sandwich unless it’s Tayto Cheese & Onion on a proper burnt brown topped bap. But the ultimate Belfast meal is that stalwart of every chippie, the Pastie Bap.

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Brixton Ginger Cake

Ginger cake

One of the few branded foods that I have a soft spot for is McVities Jamaican Ginger Cake. Squishy, sticky and so good smeared with butter, I occasionally sneak one into my trolley on the odd occasion I’m in a supermarket. But since I live in a area with a big Jamaican population I feel a bit guilty buying something that is probably highly inauthentic and mass produced. I decided it was time to try making my own version.

But how to get that almost difficult to eat super sticky feeling in a cake without the use of commercial levels of oil and played about with sorts of sugars? I always find that adding vegetables to a cake really up the moisture levels and adds a depth that sugar and fat alone cannot achieve. But what you achieve in moisture can often be overwhelmed by a vegetal taste that jars somewhat with me. Even the sweeter veg like beetroot and carrot can be cloying.

Independently of this cake dilemma, I kept seeing strange kermit-green items that looked like a pear crossed with a sock puppet’s mouth on the stalls in Brixton Market, but never known what they were. Having had my head bitten off once or twice for asking questions at the market, I’m now reluctant to buy unknown items. So when I flicked through a beautiful Caribbean cookbook and finally realised they were Christophenes or cho chos, I picked a couple up immediately and following a recipe, blanched and fried them with chilli and garlic. As a side dish they were odd. Incredibly crisp and fresh like a Chinese Pear but fried, they were incredibly succulent but didn’t taste of much.

Instead of being disappointed, I realised I had found the perfect vegetable to add to a cake. Especially a ginger cake where one can’t risk a clash of flavours without a risk of your baked goods coming up more like a curry when in fact you want a dark, sticky and grown up cake. I looked around for a recipe to fit the bill and couldn’t find one, so for the first time I decided to bake fairly freehand.

I did take some tips from this Ginger Cake at The Caked Crusader, but completely omitted the evaporated milk, fresh ginger and the icing and added in the cho cho to give some serious squish. I boiled it until tender, mashed it and left to drain with a weight on top to get rid of excess water and got on with winging the rest of it. One whole cho cho is about 200 grammes raw.

To make this cake you need:

225g plain flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground ginger
180g unsalted butter
100g light brown sugar
half a jar of stem ginger in syrup
a cooked and mashed cho cho or christophene
125g black treacle (or molasses)
2 eggs

100g plain flour
100g cold butter
50g sugar
cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180°C and prep a loaf tin (preferably a 2lb or 900g one. But if like me you’ve forgotten what size it is, prep it anyway.)

Boil and mash the christophene (also known as chayote or mirlitons) and drain well. If you can’t get a cho cho, use some mashed courgette instead.

Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, allspice, nutmeg and the ground ginger into a bowl and mix together. I would use half the amount of baking powder as the original. Mine exploded like a my hair on a drizzly day with double.

Blitz the stem ginger, the entire jar’s worth of syrup and the treacle together to make a heavenly smelling puree. If you’ve not got any syrup left in the jar, make your own with dark sugar, water and double the ground ginger or add some freshly grated ginger root.

Beat the butter into the dry ingredient until well combined. Beat in the sugar. Pour in the elixir of ginger and treacle and beat in the eggs with a folding motion. It’s actually much easier than the usual all in one sponge method, saves on washing up and creates an amazing light fluffy puffy batter that smells divine. I didn’t find mine runny at all, quite robust in fact, but The Caked Crusader warns that ginger cake can be a thinner batter.

Mix the remaining cold butter, plain flour and sugar to make a crumble crumb and line the base of the loaf tin with it. I decided I didn’t want an icing or I feared the cake would be teeth itchingly sweet, but this would hopefully make it look more exciting than a bit lump of loaf.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for approximately 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out cleanly. But bear in mind that this cake is so moist, even when it’s perfectly cooked the skewer might still be sticky. I turned the oven off and left it for 5 minutes more to be sure.

Leave to cool in the tin for 30 minutes or until you can be bothered to take it out of the tin. i was so overcome with having baked off the cuff for once (I am usually rigid on anything involving flour) that I couldn’t face the fear it wouldn’t come out and left it for any hour. I inverted it and it slid out beautifully. I’m glad I’d been warned it might dip in the middle or I’d have panicked. I let it cool completely and then wrapped tightly in a tea towel overnight.

It was so moist, it crumbled a bit when I unwrapped it and it was a slightly bedraggled looking loaf cake. But this one is all about the taste not the looks. But I could forgive its shabby exterior when I tasted the spicy ginger flavour and enjoyed the sponge pudding like texture. It was as sticky and moreish as I had hoped and went down well with others who tried it. I felt the crumb added nothing to it in the end except a vaguely greasy aftertaste so I’d skip that again.

But for a great sticky treat that would go with any cup of tea (and keep well) you can’t beat this cake. Perfect to bake on a Sunday. It means you can bring back the much missed tradition of elevenses this week!