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.


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.

Martini Izakaya Dishes

An Izakaya is essentially a type of Japanese pub that specialises in food to accompany drinks. It’s basically my favourite type of drinks setting. I love the post-work, instantly friendly and relaxed atmosphere, completely free of pretension.

Comparable to Spanish tapas or Turkish meze, the Izakaya-way is healthier than simply guzzling down a bucket of booze before staggering off for some fish and chips or a kebab (yes I’m British, that’s what we do).

Izakaya dining tends to leave out carbohydrates (rice, noodles etc) until the end of the meal for when the customer wants something very filling to soak up the booze before they leave. Otherwise most of the carbohydrates in the meal are obtained from the alcoholic beverages.

 I normally like some sort of carbohydrate with my martinis (crisps or nuts as a particular culprit, including the above Japanese peanut snacks) but there are loads of low-carb alternatives out there and the Izakaya is the master of them. Here are some examples:

It’s fairly standard to start an Izakaya meal with edamame, here boiled in salted water for 4 minutes from frozen, drained, cooled and sprinkled with salt (or some of Laura Santtini’s Umami salt if you fancy it). There are loads of other sauces, dips and condiments you can serve them with. Try experimenting.

This is another common Izakaya dish: agedashi-tofu.

It’s deep-fried tofu cubes in simmered dashi stock. I made some here with fried peppers, grated daikon, sliced cucumber, sliced spring onions and sesame seeds. For a recipe I recommend my favourite online cookery show: Cooking With Dog.

Grilled meat and vegetables are also extremely popular. Here are some Yakitori skewers.

Korean-style spinach – Sigeumchi-namul is an easy accompaniment you can make in advance of serving martinis.

Here is some tamago-yaki (fried omelette) with a sweet balsamic vinegar glaze. This is also nice at breakfast by the way.

Izakayas are usually more relaxed than formal sushi restaurants and many serve Japanese interpretations of Western cuisine. The above Korokke for example is the commonly served Japanese version of French croquette potatoes, here served on a bed of noodles. Sacré bleu!

I produced these asparagus skewers with the Izakaya style in mind, even though they are not traditionally Japanese.

Behold! I think I have managed to insult the culinary traditions of at least three different countries with this one. Nigiri (fingers of sushi rice pressed individually with toppings) here with English mustard (instead of wasabi) Spanish chorizo, Italian prosciutto and salami, with a mayo-mustard-vinegar-honey-and-juniper dip and some Tsukemono on the side.

I won’t stop there. Here is some meat and cheese gyoza, a veritable abomination of traditional Japanese cooking, but it’s very easy to make and appeals to meat and cheese lovers. Similar to a normal gyoza (dumpling) in terms of appearance and preparation, the only difference is the ingredients. Place a spoonful of cheese into the middle of some thinly sliced chorizo or salami, fold the meat over to encapsulate the cheese and crimp it shut. You can serve it like that, or grill it for a minute or so until the meat crisps and the cheese melts. 

My brother made something similar by wrapping mozzarella pieces in thin salami slices and frying them. Not so good for the heart, but very good for the belly.

Speaking of bellies, here are some evilly good deep-fried pickled gherkins. A salt ‘n’ vinegar snack I first enjoyed courtesy of the Meat Liquor / Meat Mission guys in London. They’re easy to make. Just dip them in a simple batter and fry them for about 3-4 minutes in about an inch of hot, lightly smoking oil. They go well if you serve them with a soy sauce and balsamic vinegar 50:50 mixture for dipping.

That soy-vinegar mixture works well with quite a lot of things. Here I used it as a dipping sauce for wood ear mushrooms. Buy these dried, bring a pan of water to the boil, throw them in, take the pan off the heat, give them a stir, leave them to soak in the water for 30 minutes, drain then serve.

Okay, okay, I know, it’s just crisps. Carbs and not fancy, right? Well Izakayas aren’t pretentious. So all sorts of comfort foods can be served. Crisps will forever be welcome as a tasty martini snack.

This is more authentically Izakaya. Sliced aubergine (egg plant, if you must) stir fried then combined with a light miso sauce, with chopped spring onions sprinkled on top. It can be served hot or cold.

This is some fried spring onion with a soy glaze. Simple, easy and slightly unusual in the West, the recipe is here.

This is probably cheating but I served some deep fried squid I bought from a Chinese takeaway restaurant. No one complained. It actually worked very well. I’ve said it before, seafood goes very well with a martini. And if you’re going to dip that seafood in batter and fry it until it’s crunchy then that can only be a good thing. 

This wasn’t cheating but it was a lot more time consuming. It’s some thinly sliced rare beef with spring onions. I rubbed the beef with salt and pepper, cooked it lightly in a pan, chilled it in iced water, patted it dry, sat it in a sweet soy and onion marinade overnight then sliced it thinly and served it with spring onion.

It’s a bit fiddly to make for a canapé but it’s tasty if you can be bothered. The beef also goes well simply served on top of rice (especially sushi rice).

This is izakaya-esque. I just took some konbu (kelp) I had used while making sushi rice and turned it into a salty/umami garnish.

You can roll the konbu up and serve it as an alternative to the classic martini olive.


You can also serve konbu with that same soy-vinegar mixture shown above.

Here is some Shime Saba or lightly pickled Japanese mackerel. It’s one of my favourite things to make and eat and it’s very healthy. 

One of my friends complains about prawn sandwiches having a “high death-to-bite ratio” but this mussel martini has a “high death to sip ratio”… Much like those of James Bond’s… It’s not the most appetising garnish I ever made but life without experimentation is dull. I simply threaded some pre-cooked mussels on a toothpick and served it on the side of the glass.

And who could forget this experimental extravaganza? It’s more seafood, this time in the form of a squid-ink martini with octopus tentacles. Tentacle martini porn is now officially a thing!

And finally, as I said before, an Izakaya experience is often finished off with soup and/or noodles. I also think that a martini needs to be finished off with a good meal. You want to fill your stomach with something substantial after all that alcohol and you need something to look forward to. Otherwise you’ll end up just wanting another martini – which can get very dangerous indeed!

Above I served noodles in miso soup with dumplings, prawns, seaweed, courgettes and avocado topped with katsuobushi (dried tuna shavings). It’s very easy to throw together – even if you’re two martinis down. In fact, if you’ve got the miso soup, add the boiled noodles then you could just about throw anything in there. Don’t be afraid to experiment.


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.

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 Spicy Umami Michelada

    A London variation on the classic Mexican drink.


    As I’ve said before, I don’t always drink martinis. I also like beer and lager, to name but a few alternatives. I recently wrote about the Mexican drink Micheladas and here I’ve come up with another variation.

    In its most simple terms, a Michelada contains beer/lager, the juice of a lime, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a salt rim around the glass. Hot sauce, soy sauce and tequila are also frequently added.

    I recently bought one or two Laura Santtini ingredients and thought they would make a good addition for this variation on the recipe. You will need:


    • A lime
    • A beer
    • Salt (preferably a good quality sea salt)
    • Worcestershire sauce
    • Soy sauce
    • Tabasco sauce

    And the following enhancements:

    • Taste 5 Umami paste
    • Taste 5 Umami Rush condiment

    I often rub the umami paste into meat, fish and vegetables before cooking them. However, if you don’t have any to hand, use tomato purée as a substitute and add a little more soy sauce.

    The condiment is like a salty umami-citrus pepper. You can use normal salt instead but the condiment adds a zesty, umami buzz to the drink.

    • Run a tall glass under a tap and leave it in the freezer for at least 20 minutes (but preferably several hours)
    • Sprinkle salt and the Umami Rush condiment on a plate
    • Remove the glass from the freezer, cut the lime and rub half of it around the rim of the glass


    • Rim the glass in the salt and Umami Rush mixture to create a reddish crust
    • Juice the lime and add it to a jug
    • Add a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a dash of soy sauce.
    • Add a few drops of Tabasco sauce (to taste)
    • Add a smudge of Taste 5 Umami paste
    • Add some of the beer and stir the mixture
    • Pour the mixture into the rimmed glass then top up with more beer
    • Add ice and stir gently before serving. Try not to get the salt rim wet during this process.
    • Instead of ice I use lime segments that I store in the freezer (these are good for gin and tonics as well)

    It’s perfect for a hot day. It’s also good for a… err… hangover.

    Soooo… ¡Salud!


    Korean spinach – Sigeumchi-namul



    This is a really tasty, easy and even healthy vegetarian dish that you can serve as a vegetable side, a starter or, most importantly of all, as an appetiser to accompany a martini (obviously).

    I first ate this delicious dish in Koreatown, Manhattan. Of all the wondrous and unusual dishes I gluttonously consumed that night (my favourite being a gigantic simmered squid, still sizzling in savoury sauce with brown sugar lightly caramelising on top) this spinach starter is the easiest to put together, but with all things simple, it’s often easy to get it wrong.

    I have made the following recipe to my own personal taste preferences so you might want to alter it to add more or less garlic, chilli, soy sauce or oil depending on what you like, but you don’t want to drown it, you don’t want it too oily and you don’t want the garlic overpowering the earthy taste of the spinach either. 

    Also if a Korean ajumma tells you to make the recipe a different way, just do what she says.

    Otherwise, you will need the following ingredients per person:

    • 200g fresh spinach leaves (around 7oz)
    • 1 tsp soy sauce
    • 1 tsp sesame oil
    • 1 tsp sesame seeds
    • A clove of garlic

    (Simply multiply the above for the number of people you are preparing for).

    Prepare the garlic first by peeling the number of cloves you want to use.

    Here’s a tip: take the cloves you need and put them in the microwave on full heat for 2 seconds. No more! 


    You’re not cooking the garlic in the microwave, you’re simply loosening the hard peel from the flesh. If you slice off the end now, you will find it much easier to peel.
    Thinly slice then chop the garlic into fine pieces.

    Here’s another tip: to wash off the garlic smell simply hang your hand loosely under a running tap of cold water so that the water runs down your fingertips and off the ends. Hold it there for about 20 seconds or so. This seems to wash off the garlic. It’s particularly effective if you have a stainless steel sink that you can rub your fingers on as well. 

    Bring water to the boil in a large pan. Add the spinach and blanch for about 20-30 seconds.

    It should turn a bright green. The volume of the spinach will also reduce significantly. If you are making this for a lot of people you might need to cook the spinach in batches.

    When cooked, transfer immediately to a sieve and run under cold water to cool it thoroughly.

    Leave it to drain.  

    While the spinach is draining, mix the sauce by combining the garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. 
    Gently squeeze the spinach to remove excess water then transfer it to a chopping board and cut it up.
    Transfer it to a large bowl (or you could reuse the pot that you cooked the spinach in if you’ve wiped it dry).

    Add the sauce and mix it into the spinach (you can do this by hand but I used a teaspoon).

    You can either serve it immediately or put it in the fridge to serve chilled later.

    When serving, sprinkle sesame seeds on top. It is also common to add sliced spring onion as a garnish on top as well.

    If you want to bulk it up with some nutritious umami I sometimes put a handful of dried wakame seaweed into a glass of water to soak for 5-10 minutes while making this dish. When you are about to chop up the spinach drain the seaweed and squeeze out the excess moisture and add it to the spinach to be chopped up with it.

    If you want to be über nutritious lightly grind the sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle before sprinkling them over. If they are slightly broken it makes them more digestible and allows your body to absorb more of their nutrients.

    Obviously don’t forget to pour yourself a martini (or some soju) when you serve this. Make sure you pour a large measure for any long suffering ajummas in your company as well. They deserve it!