SHOPPING: Design savvy kitchenware round up

Do your bit for the credit crunch and shop, shop, shop.

I love the ideas behind these products. Maybe they would make good gifts now wedding season is upon us? I think I have a growing pile of John Lewis gift lists at the mo and don't think I can quite handle buying yet another set of matching cream towels. So apologies to my group of soon-to-be-wed friends, I know you painstakingly chose those items on the list for your new life but you really DO need these salt and pepper maracas. Yes you do.

The Bourgeois Brass Knuckle Screw, designed by Jonathin Sabin. Be a wine badass with one of these. It will be produced in a limited edition of 50 from Cromoly and be around $100. For that price–and I should hope so too–they throw in a beautiful handmade etched box.

Salt and Pepper maracas, designed by Akiko Itoh, £32.00.

Somelier wine glass
designed by by Maxim Velčovsk, £29.00 for a set of two.

, designer: Black+Blum £11.50.
(Whilst bordering on the novelty kitchenware edge, I actually think this would make a good masher and be good for getting into the pan corners.)

Images from the respective linked sites.

RECIPE: Chocolate Florentines

I've had a real hankering to make florentines for a while now. I don't know why it happens but I just get this insatiable need to make this or that which doesn't go away until I get it out in the kitchen. Why florentines? Who knows. Next week it will be something else!

After researching recipes online, I chose this one on the Channel 4 site, although for this batch I lightly toasted 50g of mixed cashews, walnuts and hazelnuts and I used 40g of raisins, chopped up finely in place of the glace cherries. I prefer dark chocolate so used that instead and had jolly good fun applying it to the backs of the baked florentines because I am a total saddo that gets satisfaction from these simple little pleasures.

One thing I found out is you can cheat the shape of your florentines if you get them straight out of the oven by pushing the edges gently with a spoon, whilst they are still molten hot. Just don't tell anyone.

The very second I made these, I had the urge to remake them with pistachio (yeah, yeah I'm obsessed) and chili. Watch this space.

Brighton Foodies Festival 2009: Richard Eldon from Blanch House, Beer o’clock with Hepworth Brewery and a cocktail class with fire

I followed up the Heather Mills demonstration with a master class from Richard Eldon, chef at one of my favorite restaurants, Blanch House. He served some beautiful ostrich with samphire and elderflowers foraged by the man himself. Now we are talking. Beautiful, succulent and real.

Look at this lemon sole! The clever chap wielded a hand blender in a frying pan to blitz a soft-boiled egg and added oil and pumpkin seed puree to effortlessly form a loose mayonnaise. How lovely does that dish look? I manage to sneek a picture in before the stampede behind me demolished it. Pretty, pretty, pretty.

He then magically conjured up a beautiful honeycomb by simply melting sugar, glucose and honey with a little water and heating to exactly 150° then heroically throwing in bicarbonate of soda with no thought for his own safety. The possibility of explosion did not deter him and tah, dah… honeycomb. The cool down was an agonising wait but well worth it.

Dude. You rock.

I ended the day’s festivities with yet more booze classes. I tell you, you could have drunk from 10.30am till 6pm as the drinking classes were back to back and looking at the state of some people (particularly after the 7-shot gin session) I think some did. But who am I to criticize with a breakfast sherry sesh?!

I joined the now largely sozzled room for a beer tasting session with local beer champs Hepworth Brewery, who taught me about the malts and hops (even letting us munch on crystal malt… yum yum), the beer industry in general, their huge tax bills and showcased their wonderful beers from the light to the rich, dark, hoppy head splitters. You can find their beers in the pubs and stores in the southern end of the UK. Also, To make ends meet they do a lot of reseach and experiments for the big boys which I thought was interesting.

After a short break we went for some cocktail classes in the My Hotel bar and learned how to set fire to my kitchen worktop. Marvelous stuff.

I'm looking forward to a bigger (and hopefully better organised) event next year.

Brighton Foodies Festival 2009: Heather Mills

The paps were there and I guess they didn’t have a keen interest in how to make roast potatoes crunchy. Security was in place ready for the food fight. Not exactly what you would expect from a food demo but this was a little out of the ordinary.

Heather Mills was here to talk about vegan food and her controversial new restaurant in Hove, V-Bites. Ms. Mills and her crack team were kitted out in V-Bites T-shirts and all I could think of was how terrible the logo was. Why is the V stabbing the Bites? But that’s more Graphic than Foodie so I shall leave it there, although if anyone cares I can happily supply a 5000 word essay on it.

Heather first asked the room who was vegan. To her (and my, actually) surprise there were just two vegans and a pescatarian (sounds like a band!). To her credit, she took it on the chin and said she was pleased, as she wanted to show us carnivores the benefits of having one or two nights off a week from meat. Cue the needle over vinyl sound.

Right. What the shizzle is the deal with some vegans and veggies thinking us carnivores sit down to a Fred Flintstone size rack of ribs for breakfast, lunch and dinner? I eat meat a couple of times a week maybe. The rest of the week is filled with a wide variety of pastas, risottos, curries, soups, fish and a car boot load of vegetables. WE DO NOT NEED TO BE SAVED.

It’s ok, I’m over it. First on the menu was a stir-fry using the revolutionary beef substitute soy product that she is developing. Someone did actually have to shout out that it was burning. But you know what it tasted like beef! Texture was still a little flabby but not bad. I don’t like soy sauce doused over stir-fry but that’s a personal thing.

Next up was her Cheeky Nut Korma served up with Heather’s secret homemade mayo. Yup. Mayo on korma. The textured chicken substitute soy thing was a bit odd and not quite as successful as the beef. The korma sauce was lovely but the lemony mayo on top was “unusual”. When asked how the mayo is made without eggs, she would not divulge, only to reveal that it involved some kind of…yup, you guessed it, soy substitute.

She has developed these meat substitute products and she even said she was going to have her own factory making them. In case you were wondering, the mysterious meat flavour is “all about the herbs” apparently.

We finished off with her chocolate and ginger cake that is proclaimed to be irresistible to children but lacked the lightness and richness you get with glorious dairy butter.

She gave us a good tip on roast potatoes and how to cut veg. She also made some good points. I agree that meat should not be an everyday food. I believe in eating a variety of fresh, wholesome foods, most of which are in fact, vegan.

But I don’t agree with restricting the diet unless for extreme medical or religious reason. And if you do choose a vegetarian or vegan diet, I don’t see why you need these processed, flavoured, rubbery soy products – vegetables and fruit are beautiful, full of flavour and contain most of the nutrients you need alongside whole grains, pulses and the like to make some pretty spectacular meals. Soy substitutes, for me personally, have no taste benefits and I don’t see how they can differ from chemically charged processed meat products that are also unfortunately available. Traditionally used in Asian cooking for 3000 years or so, soy was consumed at a much, much lower quantity than today. They also fermented it to remove toxins but it is not the same as the Western stuff you can pick up now that is available unfermented, highly processed and creepily “hidden” in a lot of other food.

Oh, apologies for getting heavy, I don’t want to preach the other end of the argument at the wrong audience. I am certainly no expert in soy but I live by the “everything in moderation” rule, and what I do know is that free range, respectfully raised animals provide us with wonderful nutrition through their meat and dairy products. Oh and that food should above all be enjoyed with gusto and passion.

She was excellent in her delivery and you could tell she really does believe in what she is doing, is uber passionate and for that I have respect even if I do not agree. You go girl. She will even be cooking at her V-Bites restaurant, focusing on her pièce de résistance, the Sunday roast (when her daughter is not in term time and she is not doing charitable work in the US and…and...and...)

Was I converted? No. I shall continue to enjoy my veg without the need for substitutes, soy or anything else processed. She did however work up an appetite so I pootled over to the long queue at Sam’s of Brighton’s stall for a wonderful, minted, Sussex reared lamb burger.

Next time: Back to meat, fish and dairy goodness with the amazing Richard Eldon from Blanch House and back on the booze with more beer and cocktail tasting.

Brighton Foodies Festival 2009: Sushi, sherry, the failed oyster and the first aid cake

The first Brighton Foodies festival showcased a mix of cooking and drinking masterclasses, demonstrations and a food market. To be honest, the organisation was a bit of a hash which marred the day and I think most people noticed but it was their first one, I had a good day overall and what the hey, call me Italian - we all love a bit of arm waving and confusion.

I kicked off with an impromptu Sushi masterclass at Yo! Sushi. Whilst not being my first port of call for sushi, the chef was superb and could wield a knife like no other. We made 2 different types of rolls and the top tip was to cover your hands in (Chinese!) mayo whilst making everything. She then proceeded to feed us a generous variety of dishes, which highlighted how freshness is king to good sushi. Looked easier than I thought and well worth a bash at home.

I was so full up I needed a drink. So straight off to the sherry tasting masterclass. Yeah, yeah it was only 11am but it was for educational purposes. DON’T JUDGE ME! So we were the only two that turned up. This was probably down to the fact there are very few lushes around that time of morning or that no one knew where it was or thanks to the promoters, that it was happening at all. I felt sorry for the lovely and understandably peeved Mel Jones who had traveled down especially to do this. However, she valiantly powered on and taught us many fascinating things about sherry, how it is made, the varieties and what food to serve with each. Sherry is set to be the next new craze in the wine world. Oi! No chuckling at the back! You heard it here first so buy it whilst it’s still cheap my friends.

Mel is a wine writer and general vino expert extraordinaire but is also interested in sherry, its pairing with food and getting restaurants to promote it (and store it) better. I personally would not have thought to crack a bottle open with dinner but there are some wonderful, almost white wine like varieties that will change you opinion. We stated with these amazing light versions and ended with the dark almost treacle like types. Top on my list were the light and refreshing, almost savory La Gitaha, Manzanila, which I would agree with Mel's pairings and serve with fish or other lighter fare and the Moscadel Emilin a darker sherry more suited for dessert. We also tried a Pedro Ximénez which was syrup-thick and brilliant to top ice cream with but way too sickly to drink.

Harvey’s Bristol this ‘aint and in short, sherry is not just to make granny giddy. I’m a convert.

Mel has a website (Quaffers Offers – great name) that has been recommended by BBC Good Food which lists all the wine offers on the UK high street. You can search by variety, shop, price and country.

She was so nice she gave us a good few bottles for the er, road as they were not used. One bottle went within 24 hours. It was good.

Now nicely fuzzy for Heather Mills’ cooking master class (her first cooking appearance – woot!) we made a short pit stop and I decided to overcome my food Achilles heel – the oyster. Had a choice of either Poole or Jersey oysters so I opted for the former as it was supposed to be lighter. The slightly more refined Mr. GF adores oysters went straight for the Jersey, loved it, then watched me for a painful five minutes as I gauged how to tackle this obstacle in my hands.

Now oysters. They don’t exactly look like something one should put in their mouths now do they? But taste is everything and I have chowed my way through sweet breads, fois gras and any offal going with glee. I overcame the visual and had it in my mouth and gave a few good spirited but tentative chomps. I was not having any of it. Luckily the lovely cake stall owner across from the oysters saw my various facial expressions of panic, fear and discomfort and came running to my aid with a morsel of ginger cake. First aid cake. Now there’s a thought.

I felt so disappointed with myself that I promise to try again and if not successful, I shall book myself in to Riddle and Finns for their oyster tasting session. Any other foodies have issues like this?

Next time: Eating meat substitutes with Heather Mills, the amazing Richard Eldon from Blanch House and more beer and cocktail tasting.

RECIPE: Either or Either Minestrone

If there was ever a hearty, nutritious bowl of soup it has got to be minestrone. Different regions have their way of doing it - in Genoa they add a great big spoon of pesto to serve, Naples and Milan have long lists of ingredients whilst the historically poorer areas such as Puglia have a more modest but equally delicious recipe, some use pasta, some rice and some are just vegetable based.

I have my own mongrel version of minestrone that is dictated by what is left in the fridge and store cupboards at the end of the month. I do think that the ingredients can be varied and you'd be hard pushed to go too wrong with a little of this or that. You could leave out the chorizo and greens and I have made alternative suggestions for most items. Personally, I like my minestrone thick and with a kick of chili (lovingly grown, dried and ground down by my dad - cheers old chap!)

(Rough) ingredients:
Olive oil
Medium white onion, chopped
Small chorizo sausage (or some pancetta, lardons)
1 Swede, cubed (or any other hard root vegetable - turnips, squash..)
3 Large carrots, cubed
2 Small potatoes, cubed much finer than the other vegetables
Chicken or vegetable stock or even just water
2 heaped tbs of tomato puree or 2-3 peeled and chopped tomatoes
The rind of a parmesan, if you have it
Fresh or dried chili
Chopped fresh herbs (or dried if you don't have them) - stick to the Mediterranean sort and maybe a bayleaf
A drained can of beans such as canellini, borlotti, broad beans or a good handful of peas, fresh or frozen
A handful of small pasta shapes like grattoni, semi di melone or orzo (you could even use spaghetti, snapped into small pieces) or a handful of long grain rice
Finely shredded savoy cabbage, escarole, greens or even lettuce
Parmesan and extra olive oil to serve

In a large sauce pan, heat a good slug of oil and add the chorizo sausage and onion until the fat releases from the sausage and the onion has softened. Add and sauté all of the cubed root vegetables and potatoes for a few minutes, stirring regularly to prevent sticking. I always add a couple of small potatoes that I cut finer as they will disintegrate and thicken the soup.

Add enough stock or just water to almost cover the vegetables but not completely. Add a couple of tablespoons of tomato puree or a few chopped tomatoes. If I have the rind end of a Parmesan left from grating I chuck this in whole and remove it at the end. It releases a superb flavour and a great use for it other that the dustbin. I just save them up and store them in the fridge (yeah, I eat a lot of Parmesan).

Add salt, pepper a nice bit of chili for a kick and some chopped parsley, thyme and/or oregano. If you have a bayleaf or two pop this in now.

Let this all boil happily then simmer for half an hour, stirring occasionally until the soup has thickened. Add the beans or peas and a handful of small pasta shapes or rice and then the shredded greens. Continue to simmer until the pasta and rice are ready.

Fish out the rind and serve up with a load of freshly grated Parmesan and maybe a drizzle of olive oil if you like.

This will make enough for 4 generous servings and is even better heated up for another meal later.

REVIEW: Cocoa patisserie, Brighton

I love faux French. Maybe it's because I sometimes I like to pretend I'm in Paris. Anyone else do that? Ok, just me then. But this is the place to while away in you delusions if you so wish. And why is it that French women seemingly eat richly and never get fat. These cakes must be non fattening then, no? They are French cakes after all.

Cocoa Patisserie popped up just down from Brighton station on the main Queen's Road a while back and the cakes on display just reel you in. All made in-house they offer a selection of delights like decadent french mousse cakes, fruit tarts, flavoured eclairs, meringues and pastries. What to choose? Being the cake magpie that I am, I went for the shiniest, most colourful cake they had - a raspberry and passion fruit delice, with a passion fruit cream centre, surrounded by rasberry bavaroise and a pretty chocolate sponge case. Total. Utter. Heaven. My friend had a passion fruit tart which was also wonderful.

I love the mismatched vintage plates and cups, the cosy little booths and the typical French bistro chairs. I even like the hand painted Paris silhouette scene on the wall.

The also offer a wonderful sounding savoury menu too. Sandwiches, tartines with sauccisson, quiches (the next table ordered one of these and it was all I could do not to reach over with my fork) and heartier dishes like onion soup and beef bourgignon. They also have a wine menu to wash it all down with. Lunches can be taken away and people were coming and going, buying bags of pastries, hand made sweets, jams and boxes of cakes for home.

One of the owners, Julien Plumart is an award winning chef and the small team really do have a gem of a place here. I like the pictures on the wall of them renovating the café from the ground up and there is a sense of all hands on deck here. I admire that mentality especially when the results of the food are as good as they are here.

Harvey Nichols Postcards

These made me chuckle. Superb celebrity pun postcards available to buy from Harvey Nics featuring the likes of Pea Diddy, Skate Moss, Fizzy Rascal, and my favorite,Wayne Pruney.

via Creative Review

RECIPE: Rhubarb crumble with ginger and almonds

There is a time and a place for refined desserts with their gold leaves, layers and tuiles and there is a time and a place (usually curled up on the couch watching a film at too late a time of the evening to be eating these things) for wonderfully stodgy, hearty desserts.

Rhubarb season is upon us and I toyed with the idea of making little rhubarb jellies, some layered compotes or a chutney. But sometimes it's nice to take the easy option that still reaps great rewards.

This is a traditional crumble with a slight twist - the ground almonds in the crumble mixture really help give it a nutty crunch and the ginger balances beautifully with the rhubarb.

500g rhubarb, about 3 long stems, cut into 2.5 cm pieces
1cm piece of ginger, grated or chopped very finely
4 tbs water
100g caster sugar

For the crumble:
200g plain flour
100g cold butter, cubed
50g soft brown sugar
50g caster sugar
50g ground almonds

Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. Put the sliced rhubarb in an ovenproof dish. Pour over the water, ginger and caster sugar and give it a good mix. Shove into the oven to get started while you make the crumble.

Sift the flour into a bowl, add the butter and use your fingertips to rub the mixture together until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the two sugars and the ground almonds.

Scatter the crumble mixture over the rhubarb. Resist the temptation to pat the mixture down - otherwise you will get a hard slab of a crumble, not good.

Bake for 35 minutes or so until the top browns and the rhubarb does that gorgeous bubbling around the edges. Serve hot with custard, cream or ice cream.

If you manage to leave a piece of this, it is great cold from the fridge. I like to steal spoonfuls of it á la Nigella whenever I reach in to get something but I am an unrefined little bumpkin really. It's all about the simple pleasures...

Offer: 3-4-2 Foodies Festival tickets, May 16 & 17, Brighton

Brighton is currently all a flutter hoisting up tents, installing art and shipping in the crazies for its annual Brighton Festival and Fringe shenanigans.

Also on the menu this year is the 2 day Foodies Festival. There will be a Chefs Theatre where you can pick up some tips and secrets from some of Brighton's top hero-like chefs. Grab a glass for the drinking masterclasses where you can partake in a sherry tasting course (I flipping love sherry) or brush up on your mixology skills so your friends think you're fancy. You can then shake the hands of the people doing good work for food in the producers market.

The organisers are offering all you lovely Graphic Foodie readers 3 tickets for the price of 2. Call Seetickets on 0871 230 7144 and quote 3-for-2 offer. Tickets are £6 each.

See you in the sherry tasting... hic.

Full details and features are available at

Foodies Festival
Saturday May 16 & Sunday May 17
Opening times 10am – 6pm