Monday, March 9, 2015


At first glance, shakshuka might look like the result of a jolly in kitchen after a heavy night of drinking. Not that great things don’t come from cooking after a night out, but this particular dish (also spelled shakshouka) is in fact a one that’s much beloved across most of Northern Africa and the Middle East. Literally meaning ‘a mixture’ in Arabic Tunisian, it’s a simple combination of tomatoes, vegetables and spices which is then used to poach one or more eggs sitting on top. It’s easy to make no matter what part of the world you’re in and has countless variants that include additional ingredients like meats and cheeses. Although typically a breakfast dish, its popularity in countries like Israel have transformed it into something of an all-day affair, enjoyed in the evenings and especially during winter.

For this particular version, I included halloumi cheese to add a bit of creaminess. It’s such an easy recipe to make, comes out looking great and if you’re having a get together, is a really nice sharing dish that visually beguiles its simplicity. Ensure you have some bread to serve it with, that sauce isn’t going to mop itself up!

Serves 6

3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
½ large onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (½-1 tsp if you prefer it medium-hot)
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tbs sweet paprika
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 400g tins of peeled plum tomatoes
200g halloumi cheese, diced
6 large eggs
Coriander leaves for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium-high heat. Add the sliced onion and peppers and cook for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until both have softened. Then add the garlic and stir for 2 minutes until softened. Now add the paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper and sugar, mixing it until the pepper and onions are well coated. 

The tinned tomatoes can now be added; ensure you break up the tomatoes well and stir until the contents of the pan are well mixed. Allow to reduce for 15-20 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Add the diced halloumi and stir it in. 

Before you add the eggs, make sure to push little indents into the surface of the sauce so that the yolks do not run away from you and become unevenly spaced. Now crack each egg and gently drop them evenly around the pan. Cover with a lid and allow the eggs to poach for 13-15 minutes, or until the yolks and whites have just set. 

Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper to your taste. Garnish with the coriander leaves and serve with bread. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Very, *Very* Belated Japanese Food Adventure

Shortly after I went on, er… ‘hiatus’ in 2011, I travelled to Japan to visit my brother who’s been working there for a good three years now at least (I’ll have to check up on him with that, it’s been so long!). It was a two week trip that was unfortunately punctuated by the Tōhoku earthquake but luckily we ended up being nowhere near some of the worst affected areas. I went there with grand plans to use the experience as a means to kick start myself into writing again by giving an in depth look at all of the different foods I’d be trying. Obviously, that never happened. Sorry everyone!

So, to make it up to you, here’s a very belated and condensed summary of places I went to and foods I tried. Japanese cuisine is one of my absolute favourites, so to say that I went there with tunnel vision is a bit of an understatement! I didn’t get to eat everything I wanted but in a country where delicious food is available on pretty much every street you wander down, it’s a fairly minor complaint to come out with.

First stop was Kyoto, featuring a nearly three kilometre walk along Teramachi Dori and the surrounding market streets. Here you’ll find anything from seafood to hand crafted kitchen wares and a rake of Japanese fast food stalls. The variety is incredible, and every stall is in some way unique from the next.

Fried kamaboko (kind of a seafood paste), Kyoto 

Plastic/wax food displays outside of most restaurants, Kyoto

Dorayaki pancake machine in Teramachi Dori, Kyoto

 Food display, a bit more cute this time! Kyoto

Octopus stuffed with a boiled quail egg on a stick (I'm sure there's a name for it), Kyoto

Kyoto is also famed for the diversity of its food, and it was here I probably tried the biggest range of dishes, from unagi to conveyor sushi and mitarashi dango. The city has such an amazing, old world feel to it, and restaurants are hidden in literally every nook and cranny; half the time it’s impossible to tell what might and might not be one!

Bamboo shoot kushiyaki with yam jelly, Kyoto

Musashi Sushi moving window display, Kyoto

Tuna tartare gunkanmaki in Mushashi Sushi, Kyoto

Mitarashi dango (grilled rice dumplings in a sweet soy sauce) Kyoto

Matcha green tea with rakugan at Kinkaku-ji Tea House

Tamagoyaki (omelette) over unagi and rice at Kaneyo, Kyoto

On a side note, If you haven’t ever had the pleasure of trying katsu curry yet, I urge you to check out your nearest Japanese restaurant and fix that problem. It’s the perfect blend of crispiness and juiciness, which when mixed with Japanese curry and rice becomes the most amazing comfort food. It’s quite probably my favourite dish, so no prizes for guessing which kind of restaurant I was on the lookout for. As luck would have it, our first hostel was a few steps up the road from a little placed called Café Curry Sakakura. Jackpot. For whatever reason, I didn’t take many pictures there but the menu alone just goes to show that if there’s any kind of meat or veg you like, chances are you’ll be able to get it fried up and served with curry.

Katsu curry everything!

The next major city we visited was Osaka. Known as the ‘nation’s kitchen’, it’s home to one of Japan’s most distinctive street foods, takoyaki. We’d already tried some in Kyoto so regrettably I passed up the chance while I was there, but I did instead try some fugu, the notorious puffer fish. This was in Zuboraya, one of many specialist fugu restaurants you’d find in Dōtonbori; the neon lit, night crawling central neighbourhood where eating, drinking, shopping and tourism all come together. If I’d had the money or the time, I probably would have ended up trying every single one of the restaurants there but as it happens, we could only spend a couple of hours exploring. Maybe next time!

Takoyaki street vendor, Osaka

Fugu shabu-shabu in Zuboraya, Osaka

And then came Tokyo. Halfway through our time there, Japan was hit by the Tōhoku earthquake so the city slowed down considerably in the aftermath. Nonetheless, we still got to eat in one or two izakayas, ramen joints and of course, a katsu curry restaurant. It was actually just as we finished having a lunch that the earthquake happened! And even though we had to high tail it outside into the street, we didn’t forget to go back and pay the bill.

Ramen, Tokyo

Yakitori, Tokyo

Gyoza, Tokyo

Yet more ramen, Tokyo

Vending machines, everywhere!

Last but definitely not least, the highlight of the trip for me was Tsukiji Fish Market. I wasn’t so dedicated that I got up at three in the morning to see the tuna auctions, but I did arrive early enough to experience its legendary organised chaos. Afterwards, we did the only thing one should do; had a sushi breakfast in a nearby restaurant called Tsukiji Sushi Sen. It was the first time I’d ever tasted sea urchin and I only wish it were easier to find in restaurants on this side of the world because it was every bit as delicious as I’d been told. Definitely not your traditional breakfast, but it ranks up there amongst the best I’ve ever had.

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

Sushi platter at Tsukiji Sushi Sen, Tokyo

All in all, the food of Japan was everything I had hoped for and my only regret is that I didn’t try more! But that’s a very convenient excuse to revisit someday, which I will. When that happens, I promise not to leave it another four years before I actually write something about it.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Smoke Potion Hot Sauce by the Chilli Alchemist

I’ve gotten used to receiving food related gifts at Christmas by now, but this year I got something from two of my friends that I’d never heard of before; ‘Smoke Potion’ hot sauce from a company called ‘the Chilli Alchemist’. No, it wasn’t anything to do with mysticism or Fullmetal Alchemist tributes. Rather, it’s a sauce made and sold by a chilli expert from Bristol. I was waiting for an excuse to use it and by sheer coincidence, a shoulder of pork magically appeared last week. Now that it’s just as magically disappeared again along with most of the sauce, I can finally talk about it!

Okay, I admit. Part of the reason it’s taken two months to open is that it just looked so pretty and ornamental! I didnt want to ruin the wax they’d used to seal it, the effect is fantastic. What I’d been given is one of their ‘apothecary bottles’, which cost £8.50 apiece (sorry Eimear/Phil, I had to know). Normal bottles of their sauces will only set you back £3.99, but the premium you pay for the apothecary style is more than worth it if you know a chilli lover and want to impress them with your gifting skills. Part of me wants to buy all seven flavours and just use them as decorations for my kitchen, but we all know that they would only last for so long.

Taste wise, the Smoke Potion is fairly in line with what you’d expect from a smoky barbecue sauce. It’s not as sweet as your average commercial sauce and it has a nice tang to it. The chipotle chillies take over from there, leading into a low burn toward the middle and back of your mouth. It’s classed as a medium spicy sauce on the Chilli Alchemist website but I personally found it to be on the milder of medium. And of course it’s full of smoky flavour, as the name suggests! It went perfectly with my pulled pork and didn't get lost in the spicing that was already on the meat.

As I mentioned before, the Chilli Alchemist has a range of sauces available on their website with some pretty big hitters on the Scoville scale if anybody is feeling particularly adventurous (try ‘the Everlasting Flame’ or ‘Purus’ at your peril). The man behind it all, Jay Webley, has an obvious passion for peppers and it’s worth noting that many of the chillies used for the sauces are home grown! Do NOT attempt to nick anything edible from this man’s garden.

So with interest in sauce variety growing ever larger (just look at your supermarket's condiment section if you dont believe me!), it's great to see an independent business like the Chilli Alchemist adding a bit of spice to the market. I'm looking forward to trying some of their other sauces so this probably won't be the last you'll hear of them from me, especially since I've just noticed they're also experimenting with ice cream and popping candy! Whatever next?