Wednesday, 18 December 2013


It was something I'd been meaning to do for quite some time - make vindaloo filled vol au vents. I like curry, I like pie, I like curry pies, and I was quite proud of the "vindavent" portmanteau. Christmas seemed like a pretty good occasion to give these a go.

Obviously at Christmas, the meat of choice has to be Turkey. So I visited my local free range butcher and asked him to source for me the finest Turkey money could buy.

When it comes to curry, I do usually prefer to make mine from scratch. But time was short, so I settled for a jar of Pataks Vindaloo curry paste, which I thought would do the job. However, I did add some extra garlic and a couple of home-grown-dried chillies, just in case the paste wasn't powerful enough.

I cooked the curry in oven on a low temperature overnight. In the morning, I was glad to see that my meat of dubious origin was now nice and tender, and had completely fallen away from the bone. Separating out the pieces of bone and inedible gristle was a quick and simple job after this.

I cut out the vol au vent cases from a sheet of puff pastry, and of course, made little "hats" for the tops. When the pastry was almost cooked, I stuffed them with the curry and put them back in the oven.

 It was then time to rush them to the Band of Baker Christmas event, before they got cold!

I gotta say - the vindavents were pretty good, but needed more heat. I cursed the shop bought curry paste. The real stars of the evening were not one but TWO "Christmas pies". Turkey, stuffing, sausage, cranberry sauce and more crammed into a gargantuan pie crust. So if there sufficient leftovers after the Fishbiscuits Christmas dinner, I may well be making one of these myself.



Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Doughnut Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding

So it turns out that Tesco do their very own clone of the classic Krispy Kreme glazed ring doughnut - and at four for £1.50, they are a fraction of the price of the real McCoy. Better still, you can sometimes pick them up at a knock-down price at the end of the evening before the store closes! And there was only one obvious thing to do with eight slightly stale glazed doughnuts...

I sliced each doughnut through the middle, then cut them in half, before laying the bottom pieces on the base of the dish. Then it was time to make the custard. I'm not really familiar with powdered custard, but I followed the instructions on the packet and whisked the powder into a jug of boiling water. The result looked pretty disgusting, kind of like pale yellow glue. So I added an egg yolk and a bit of milk into it... may as well have just made proper custard in the first place!

I didn't really want to go the traditional route of cinnamon and sultanas, I had greater plans for my pudding. I took a bar of milk chocolate and a bar of dark, and broke them into chunks. I scattered the chocolate liberally over base layer of doughnuts, before adding the custard, the top halves of the doughnuts, and a bit more custard on top. Then it all went into the oven.

After 10 minutes I took the pudding out of the oven, covered it in grated chocolate, and put it back in for another 15 minutes. And then it was done! The top had gone lovely and crispy, the sugary glaze on each doughnut blistering impressively in the heat of the oven.

Beneath the crispy top layer, the doughnuts and custard had combined into a deliciously rich and sickly goo, interspersed with plenty of melted chocolate. Strangely, I'd say that the texture was actually noticably lighter than a normal bread and butter pudding. In fact, it really did taste bloody delicious.

(serving suggestion)



Monday, 11 November 2013

Red Bull Chili Chicken

Cooking meat in coke is pretty common - I've done it myself on a few occasions, and it's a great way of getting a sticky, sweet coating on your meat. I've also heard of people making bbq sauce from Fanta, which I'm definitely going to try soon. So this got me thinking, what other soft drinks can I use in cooking?
Red Bull has a rather strong and distinctive flavour, and I was a bit worried that it might render anything cooked in it fairly inedible. So I decided to add additional flavourings in the form of garlic, lots of chilli, and of course plenty of salt and pepper. Those little dried chillies might not look like much, but those home grown fellas are really powerful!

I simmered the chicken thighs in the red bull with the chopped garlic and chilli for a little while. Long enough for it to start to come away from the bone, but not so long that it completely fell apart.

Nobody wants to eat anaemic looking boiled chicken... so I put it in the oven on high heat for ten minutes to brown up.

Now, this was more like it! I took the cooking "juice", blended it, and reduced until thick and sticky. Then I dunked the cooked chicken in the spicy red bull syrup. Yummy.

I ate the chicken with some coleslaw and garlic bread, and of course, a nice cold beer.

So how did it taste? Exactly as you might imagine... very sweet, very spicy, and rather chemically. It was kind of OK, but maybe not a recipe to repeat regularly. I think Coke would have worked much better... in fact the chicken on it's own would have been better. But the experience has made me a wiser man.



Friday, 1 November 2013

Foreign Filth - Japan

I admit that my tastes in food are not always typical. While many visitors to Japan flock to Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, or the renowned ramen outlets of Fukuoka, or high end steak restaurants in Kobe, I'm more intrigued by the seedy underbelly of Japanese food. So here's a roundup of some of my favourite things to eat in this weird and wonderful country...

Street Food

Takoyaki, originating from Osaka in a quintissential Japanese street food. Balls of batter containing pieces of octopus, and covered in a mess of mayonnaise, takoyaki sauce (sort of like brown sauce), dried tuna flakes, and various bits and pieces. Delicious, addictive, and impossible to eat without getting your face covered in sauce and grease.

Okonomiyaki is a thick, dense, sloppy pancake, often containing noodles and shredded cabbage. It is topped with the same brown sauce you get on Takoyaki, and usually mayonnaise too. In the "Osaka" version, the ingredients are all mixed up, while the "Hiroshima" version is layered.

I particularly enjoyed this little food truck serving a variety of stuff deep fried stuff. The selection included pork, rolled up bacon, prawns, and best of all, Japanese beef. You wouldn't eat a whole meal here, think of it as tasty snacks to enjoy in the evening with a few glasses of beer or sake. I don't know if there's a name for this stuff, but either way, it was pretty good.

Japanese Curry

Japanese-style curry is everywhere in Japan. Introduced to Japan by the British (who else), it has since taken on a life of its own and become a Japanese staple. Beef curry is one of the more common varieties, but my favourite is undoubtedly pork katsu curry - and I tend to eat it at every possible opportunity. I even had it as an in-flight meal!

I've mentioned the curry doughnut (kare-pan) before, but it really is a wonderful invention, and makes for an interesting surprise if you can't read Japanese and happen to buy one from the local bakery.

Everyone knows that the Japanese love their instant noodles, but instant curry-rice was a new one to me. I did actually buy one, but it got tragically lost in transit. But I can kind of imagine what it might taste like.

Sweet Stuff

Cream puffs - large choux pastry buns filled with custard or cream - are really popular in Japan. I also enjoyed obanyaki, a kind of hocky-puck-shaped cake with custard filling, eaten freshly cooked. This particular one was green tea flavoured.

Baumkuchen is another popular import, and as with curry, they've kind of made it their own. You can find flavoured versions of this layered cake, such as green tea and sweet potato, all made using these awesome machines. I'm going to try making one of these some day soon... not quite sure how, but I think it will involve a packet of "yellow cake mix" and a frying pan.

There are seemingly endless varieties of sweets in Japan, and I was particularly intrigued by the flavoured Kit Kats - apparently there have been over 200 varieties released over the years, including soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger ale.

At the higher end of the market (or so they like to think), but with a similar number of flavour options, are "Mochi Cream" - chilled glutinous rice balls containing cream and fruit puree.


I found this ridiculous milkshake in a branch of Mos-Burger (popular Japanese burger chain). It's essentially a thick milkshake inside a choux pastry cone, served in a mug. Weird  but pretty good. Actually, very good. I'll add this to the list of things I might try making at home.

When it comes to booze, Japanese beer isn't much to write home about - especially the major brands, which have become as ubiquitous worldwide as Fosters, and about as flavoursome. Sake is all well and good, but I found this Okinawan Pineapple Wine and had to give it a try. The truth is it tasted a bit rough, but mixed with a little Pocari Sweat, it went down pretty well... although it gave me a hell of a headache the next morning.

I seemed to encounter tasty food and general madness at every corner. For that reason, I am going to award Japan a fine score of 9/11.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Toasties Episode 2 - The Desserts

The more I thought about toasted sandwiches, the more combinations I realised were possible. In fact, perhaps the £5 toasted sandwich maker is the only cooking equipment you really need to own!

Here are three dessert ideas - whether you're an impoverished student, a brave food adventurer, or just a twisted wierdo like me.

Apple Pie

My first dessert toastie was apple pie themed. Apple sauce and slices of apple, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

As an experiment, I removed the sandwich halfway through cooking, coated it with butter and sugar, and put it back in the toasting device. This created a rather pleasing sticky coating. It almost ruined the sandwich toaster, but I think it was worth it.

The first dessert sandwich was a resounding success.

Double Decker

I was wondering whether a two-layer toastie would be practical, and if so, what fillings I should use. Well, how about a double decker toastie - based on the chocolate bar of the same name?

Marshmallow fluff on the bottom (in lieu of nougat), chocolate and coco pops on the top layer, and an extra slice of bread in between.

OK, so the photos are a little blurry... I'd had a couple of drinks at this point. To be honest you need a little sharpener before tackling something like this. But I'm pleased to say that the twin layer toastie actually worked pretty well!

Hmmmm. Delicious!

Treacle Tart

I'm sure everyone knows that treacle tart filling is not made from treacle at all - it's made from golden syrup and breadcrumbs. Luckily I had a lot of spare bread lying around...

After making the breadcrumbs in a blender, I mixed in the syrup, and proceeded to make the sandwich.

Just for fun, I turned the sandwich round halfway through cooking, to create four small triangles instead of the standard pattern. And I must say, it turned out pretty well. And it went down a treat with a scoop of ice cream.



Monday, 9 September 2013

Student Special - Tasty Toasties

The start of the new academic year is upon us, and as we speak a new generation of students will be leaving home, settling down in grim Northern cities, and starting the transition into adult life. Although many freshers will be staying in catered halls, they find the meals unappeizing - or simply feel that their time is better spent in the pub. And of course, there's always the need for post beer snacks. So I thought I'd share some wisdom with the younger generation.

The sandwich toaster is a wonderful thing. Small, cheap, and capable of producing delicious hot "parcels" of whatever molten contents your heart desires - no student should be without one. And at this price, there is simply no excuse for not owning one.

Cheese is obviously the classic filling, and baked bean is also popular amongst the more forward thinking students. But I think we can do better. However, we must remember that students in halls often have no real cooking facilities, so no pre-cooking of fillings will be possible. And of course, preference should be given to fillings which are cheap and cheerful...


Tinned meatballs in tomato sauce make a great toastie filling, and they're pretty cheap. They do taste a bit crap, but a layer of cheese really helps, along with some pepper. Be careful not to over-fill the sandwich...


Takeaways are a luxury for a student - after all, a takeaway curry with trimmings probably costs about the same as 6 pints from the student union. But we all need our treats now and again. I like to mix my leftover curry together (rice, veg, everything) for later consumption. Perfect in a toastie for a hungover Saturday lunch.

Hawaiian Pizza

Ask any Italian what their favourite pizza topping is, and you'll always get the same answer - Hawaiiiiian. The combination of tropical fruit and fine charcuterie is a firm favourite from Naples to Milan. Here I've recreated this slice of Italy with a dollop of pasta sauce, topped with cheese, ham, and pineapple. Sprinkled with a little dried oregano for the gourmet student. Like-a-mama-used-to-make-a.


Needless to say, the curry filling was my favourite, but I can heartily recommend any of these to today's struggling students. There are endless filthy fillings just waiting to be discovered.