RECIPE: Strawberry and Basil Sorbet

My dad has been giving me punnet after punnet of strawberries from his allotment style garden and as there seems to be no end to them. So it is time to deal with the back log and get creative. I also have a lovely basil plant he grew for me which smells divine, so decided to marry the two.

I do admit I am very lucky. Dad takes pity on me and my little yard with a few pathetic herbs, tomatoes and some fruit bushes which have not produced fruit AGAIN this year (damn you green fly and caterpillars, DAMN you). But, admittedly, as hard as I try with my fruit growing, it is a lot easier to be given the produce at the end isn't it? Cheers old chap :)

The weather seems to be treating us right at the moment so a nice refreshing sorbet with all the flavours of the summer seems just the ticket. (Cue thunderstorms, hail, Arctic winds and the shortest summer on record.)


500g strawberries hulled
250g caster sugar
250ml water
2 tsp lemon juice
1 egg white
12 fresh basil leaves, very finely chopped

Put the caster sugar and water into a saucepan and heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Allow it to cool completely.

Blend the strawberries and then sieve to remove any pips and bits. Add the sugar syrup, lemon juice and very finely chopped basil to the strawberry puree.

Pour the mixture into a plastic box and freeze until it has almost set - about 2-3 hours. Then remove from the freezer, tip into a food processor along with an egg white and whizz until creamy. The egg white just changes the texture completely, and you will find you have a lot more of the mixture after adding it. Pop back into the freezer until fully set.

* Note the crystallized texture in the photo. I was rubbish and forgot I'd taken it out of the freezer to serve and it turned to slush, thereby requiring a refreeze to serve. The taste was fine but I'd obviously compromised the texture. Fool.

Fizziwigg's Sweet Shop

I love the Brighton Lanes. You just never know what's going to pop up from one week to the next. Having a secret sweet tooth I was really happy to see this shop, together with a chap behind the till wearing a candy-striped apron.

If they don't have your childhood favorites here amongst the walls of jars, no one will. I got myself some cough candy, humbugs, pear drops and my absolute favorite... rhubarb and custard sweets. They even sell sugar free and vegan versions of the classics.

Just what the country needs right now - somewhere to get a little treat that is easy on the pocket.

Meeting House Lane
Brighton Lanes

RECIPE: Elderflower Cordial without Citric Acid

If you are super quick and very lucky, you may just get the end of the elderflower season. I was randomly bimbling home along a pedestrian lane last week and spotted a glut of these on the side which I duly and enthusiastically helped myself to. I made sure I picked evenly and left enough on the plant to help it spread next year (the reason was more likely that I am short and I couldn't reach the rest, but hey-ho).

As it was now late and you really do need to use the flowers asap, I couldn't acquire some citric acid which you can buy in brewers shops (if they still exist), online or the chemist. Now it is an unfortunate fact that drug users use the stuff and I didn't fancy my chances with the local pharmacy as, quite rightly, who on earth really, really needs citric acid at that time of night? I sure they have had their fair share of junkies pleading that they are making cordial after sun down!

Anyway, I decided to power on regardless and make a small amount doubling the amount of lemons as they are, obviously, high in citric acid anyway. I have also bottled and frozen the finished cordial in small plastic bottles (leaving room for expansion!) so that it will be preserved for sure.

The recipe I used was based on Sophie Grigson's. If you have the citric acid you can use the full recipe here.

10 large elderflower heads
900g granulated sugar
600ml litres water
2 lemons

Pick off any insects and beasties you see on the flowers. Eeek!

Heat the sugar and water in a large saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Strip large ribbons of zest off the lemons with a vegetable peeler, lose the knobbly ends, then slice the lemon and place in a large bowl with the elderflower heads.

Pour the hot syrup over the lemons and elderflower heads and give it a good stir. Cover the bowl with a cloth or a big plate and leave it for 24 hours.

Strain the mixture with muslin or kitchen paper in a sieve and pour into sterilized bottles. I used a couple of small glass ones for the fridge which should be used within a month and a small plastic bottles for the freezer for future use.

Apart from using it as a drink with San Pelligrino for day and the addition of a shot of vodka at night, I'm looking forward to using this long after the summer has gone in baking, with poached pears, in a fool when the gooseberries come out, in jellies...

RECIPE: Fennel and Chilli Tarallini

So there has been something of a cooking drought in the Graphic Foodie kitchen. Holidays, fitting my parents new kitchen, meeting friends and yadda, yadda life. Hopefully, normal service will now resume.

I decided to bake these tarallini crackers for my dad's birthday. Taralli are a southern Italian snack, kinda like a pretzel, that are commonly served up in bars when you order a drink. You can get them in many flavours but most common are those with fennel, rosemary or poppy seeds. Tarallini are just smaller versions of taralli and I prefer them. They are really crispy and the fact that they are boiled before baking, just like bagels, gives them a really unique texture. Brilliant scattered round in little bowls if you are having a party or BBQ.

I decided to halve the dough and flavour one batch with fennel and the other with chili flakes but you can just do one flavour. Be sure to double the fennel or chili if you do and pop it in with the flour at the first stage.

1kg White Type 00 flour
180ml olive oil (A light olive oil is best. You can use extra virgin but it will give you a stronger taste.)
1 and a half teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons fennel seeds and 1 and a half teaspoons of dried chilli flakes (more or less depending on your taste bud sensitivity)
About 100 - 120ml White wine *but use more if you need to to get the dough consistency right*

Mix the olive oil, salt and flour in a big bowl. Add the white wine gradually until you get a nice solid dough that is smooth and plyable and will not stick. Don't worry if you don't use all of it, you can swig it as you form the rings!

Form into a nice smooth round ball and halve. To one batch add the fennel and to the other add the chilli. Knead each ball for about 10 minutes, making sure the seeds and flakes are well distributed through the dough. (Yes this dough is an excellent moisturiser for your hands with the oil content - bonus!)

Take a small amount in your hands, a ball about 2 cm in diameter, then roll into a sausage. Curl around and press the ends together. I loop them round my fingers but I do have diddy hands. You can make them bigger into taralli with a larger hole in the middle if you wish. You should end up with about 95 tarallini in total, obviously less for the taralli.

Pop the tarallini into boiling water about 10 at a time until they float to the surface. Drain onto some kitchen paper (quickly or they'll stick) then pop on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for 30-40 minutes until they are golden but not too brown.

Let them go cold, pour yourself a lovely glass of vino and enjoy your efforts. These will keep in a sealed container for weeks but they are really moorish!

SHOPPING: Ros Shiers tea towels

Ros Shiers sent me these rather fabulous tea towels. Lovely aren't they? She is a London based illustrator with a really distinctive style. Graphic and edgy yet still feminine.

I'm always a sucker for beautifully designed kitchen-alia and tea towels are a particularly great way of easily getting a bit of style and fashion into the kitchen.

What I also like about them is that they are printed on 100% natural cream cotton so they are nice and neutral, eliminating the big freak out with matching to your Dulait toaster. I can also vouch for their quality. They are an excellent weight of cotton for drying so they don't just look pretty, they will do a good job too.

Buy direct from her shop here at a mere £10.00 each for what essentially is a piece of useable artwork. Also available are some rather lovely cotton bags for environmentally conscious shopping. Who said being green = being drab?

Around Scotland with a fork 2/2: shellfish at Loch Leven and an odd cup of tea.

Carrying on the trip around Scotland a few pounds heavier...

Loch Leven Seafood Cafe

This is an incredible place. They started off by being shellfish exporters to Europe and as local demand grew for the casual odd lobster or crab, they opened up a little shop which as well as their fish, now sells fab produce and ceramics with a heavy Spanish influence. They finally added a restaurant overlooking the loch, which is unashamedly stuck on to the side of the dispatch centre but very modern and fresh inside.

I must admit I am not a real fan of shellfish but it would have been insane not to order one of their seafood platters as this is the best you are ever going to taste it. We ordered a platter meant for one person as a starter between four of us and this turned up:

Yup, that is meant for one person. At £35.50 this was a total bargain as it would cost more to buy all of the produce from the fishmongers. Bigger platters can be purchased but judging by this one, I expect they have to crane in the one for four people at £142.00. I tried everything and for someone who isn't keen on these crustaceous beasties, I manage to polish off a decent selection. The mussels and clams were tender and the langoustines were really excellent. I can whole heartedly say I was not converted to the snails and razor clams. I also didn't fight for the single oyster after my recent disaster, but apparently this was the freshest it could be.

As well as more shellfish there is a varied yet sensibly limited 'alternative' menu with at least one fish of the day as well as veggie and carnivore options. Our table ordered the shell roasted scallops with parsley and almonds, mussels, the brill with roasted peppers and a pan fried halibut. Everything was excellent but my brill really stole the show. The soft roasted peppers sat so well with the fish. Everything was simple and allowed the incredible freshness of the fish to shine through.

We polished off a perfect meal with a cheeseboard and elderflower jellies. Also a good sign was the ever refilling basket of bread and olive oil which was top notch quality.

Loch Leven Seafood Cafe
Onich, Fort William,
Inverness Shire PH33 6SA

Sheena's Tea Hut, Corran
They (bloody guidebooks) said there was a tea room here but it turned out to be a rickety old lean-to decorated with shells and twigs off someones house in a little place called Corran. It's past Gleneig and literally at the end of the road. Worth it if you are passing for the sheer bonkers of it and I tip my hat to entrepreneurs in whatever form they take so you go, lean-to lady. I didn't have the guts to take a picture. Google "corran tea hut" if you're curious.

Anyway, Corran is where I spotted the first of the season of Elderflowers. Beautifully free from any pollution here by the coast. I hope someone uses them wisely!

And that sums up the highlights of the weeks eating which was 95% great. I won't ruin it by mentioning the Inverness restaurant that broke every food and hospitality rule in the book, but with very little research made on where to eat (unusual for me!), we were either very lucky or Scotland has a really great standard of restaurants and produce.

Around Scotland with a fork 1/2: fish at Plockton, tea at Fortingall & a dram or two at Dalwhinnie

I've just comeback from a weeks jaunt round Scotland starting with Glasgow, across to Edinburgh (one of my favorite cities), then all across the highlands in what was probably the best weeks weather anyone could ask for. For a moment, I thought I got on the wrong flight stepping off and being hit with the heat at Glasgow!

Anyway, I thought I should share some of the weeks treats I came across, as whenever I'm visiting Scotland I am always astounded by the quality of food you can get up there. This trip didn't fail but there were some definite shining stars.

The best food I found was the fish on the west coast. You would pass little boats bringing in the fish and shellfish in the afternoon, ready to be served in the evening, so it doesn't get fresher than this.

Plockton Hotel
One of may favorite spots was Plockton, a very pretty little fishing village although a bit odd as there are palm trees dotted around which I don't immediately link to Scotland. Regardless, it was one of the nicest places we visited and on a nice day well worth the afternoon hours spent overlooking the bay with a local ale in hand.

We decided to eat at the Plockton Hotel and pub, canceling our reservations at the newly opened Shores restaurant (sorry!) as the menu at the pub seemed more simple and honest and I'm doubly glad we switched as it turns out they made it into the finals for the Seafish Seafood Pub of the Year Award.

I had their Plockton Smokie, which was baked, flaked smoked mackerel layered with cream, cheese & tomatoes. Utterly divine. I always worry about things with cream as it's not really my thing but here it was hardly distinguishable, soaking entirely into the fish to soften and sweeten it. I loved the tomato on the base which was particularly delicious.

As I saw the boats bringing in the days catch over the road through the windows, I was in the mood for more fish and chose the local salmon but tried some of the haddock and pan fried herring in oatmeal too that my fellow diners ordered. Everything was faultless, particularly the herring and just really simple. The other diners in the small room all seemed to agree as all I could overhear from each table was praise. The seafood stew on the next table looked amazing.

Plockton Hotel
41 Harbour Street
Plockton, IV52 8T
01599 544274

Fortingall Hotel
Whilst we were visiting the site of Europe's oldest tree (rock and roll people, rock and roll) we stumbled on the Fortingall Hotel, which was totally unexpected as there was little else around in the remote village.

They managed to rustle us up a quick cream tea that was very welcome amongst their beautiful surroundings and furniture which, when you look closer you will see is made with bits of antlers and feathers and things. This is a real hunting, fishing, shooting kinda place and I loved all the tweed with the country house glamour. Shame dinner wasn't served for another couple of hours because I bet it would have been good looking at the menu and quite reasonable too. Next time maybe.

Fortingall Hotel
Fortingall, Aberfeldy,
Perthshire PH15 2NQ
01887 830367

Dalwhinnie Distillery
We drove to the barren plains of Dalwhinnie to have a gander round the distillery there. One of the highest distilleries in Scotland it produces the 'Gentle Spirit', a nice chilled out whisky for my novice taste buds.

They make good use of the water from the Lochan an Doirre-uaine and they used to get the peat from the bogs nearby. It amazes me that only six people work here on shift rotation to produce all the whisky that lies around there and other locations around Scotland "sleeping" in the barrels.

I wasn't allowed to take any pictures here but I loved the massive coppers stills which made me feel like I was in Willy Wonka's factory. The did let me stick my head in the mash tun to get a lung full of the barley being swilled around. I sampled a dram (because it would be rude not to, right) of their standard 15 year old which could easily turn me onto the stuff. A very easy going whisky and fun to compare to all the others, from the light coastal whisky from Oban (although I couldn't detect the apparent salty aftertaste) to the dark, heavy stuff for you hardened drinkers, the name escapes me as I was a bit floaty at this point!

Dalwhinnie Distillery
Dalwhinnie, PH19 1AA
01540 672219

Next time... More fish at the amazing Loch Leven Seafood Cafe and the oddness of Sheena's Tea Hut at Corran.

REVIEW: Zingarella's Patisserie, Brighton Marina

UPDATE: Zingarella's has now closed its doors. Review for historical purposes. For great pastries, try the amazing Cocoa Patisserie instead.

To be honest I have eaten trays of Zingarella's pastries over the years as they feature quite heavily at functions within the Italian community here but have previously never made it down to the cake mother ship in the soon to be spruced up Brighton Marina.

The interior is very simple and very Italian, with marble cafe tables and a lovely long display of colourful pastries. There is loads of outside seating which I would guess gets all used up on long summer days.

Really popular and not hard to see why, Zingarella's create a bevvy of traditional Italian pastries, pretty little mignons and large cakes to order. If you don't have a sweet tooth, you can order toasted paninis, salads and the like. They have an ice cream counter for passers by or ice cream sundae treats to eat in. I see they have delved deeply into the 80s and now offer home made sorbets put back into the fruit - remember those? Sadly, I only saw these on my way out but vow to return for one whilst wearing something neon.

This time I had a modest selection of the mini pastries and a very good coffee. The cannoli are worth the trip on themselves but I also had a rum baba and a chocolate and a strawberry cream filled choux pastry. Actually, these tasted better than any I have sampled at the functions as they were really fresh. I would have liked more rum in the baba (as always, because I'm a lush) but the crisp shell of the cannoli and the soft cream were great. I do prefer them with the more traditional sweet ricotta and edge dipped in pistachios but I'm being picky!

I spied large versions of the cannoli which I'd say were definitely worth a punt. There is a knack to eating them without covering yourself in cream and powder but if you train really, really hard and eat them frequently you'll get as good as I am.

UPDATE: Zingarella's has now closed its doors. Review for historical purposes. For great pastries, try the amazing Cocoa Patisserie instead.

Zingarella's Patisserie
15 Mermaid Walk

Brighton BN2 5WA
01273 686800

Orange and poppy seed cake and the vicar/potato incident

Another success from the fantastic BBC Good Food site. I made this orange and poppy cake which was really dense and deliciously zingy.

Syrup drizzled cakes are so good for serving as dessert especially if they are polenta or semolina based. This one isn't but the equal measure of flour and ground almonds make it a very close mix, ideal for holding its own with the syrup.

The only thing I would do differently is maybe peel the oranges for the top as your fork would not go through it and you end up with an all manner of dinner table etiquette issues tackling the thing.

Foods that are difficult to cut or eat evoke a mild anxiety in me as they transport me to a time where I was at a very lovely wedding held at a beautiful Royal Artillery mess (picture Harry Potter dining hall, long banqueting tables, massive candelabras and lots of fancy people).

One thing about army dining is that all the cutlery is ancient silver and the knives are particularly blunt so tackling a piece of meat needs some serious planning and precision. They had sat me next to the vicar, so the combination of trying desperately to appear sober, to not say anything controversial or blasphemous as well as using what may as well have been a spoon to cut my meat was a disaster waiting to happen and oh my... happen it did.

After trying to saw into the meat for what seemed like an eternity, the knife slid along the plate, launching practically the entire contents in the direction of the vicar. Most landed in his lap apart from a whole new potato that leapt up and hit him square on the head. I cringe at the image of him mopping gravy off his brow as the section of room fell silent before being shattered by my friends roaring laughter to the utter horror of the brides family. The vicar and his wife left shortly after and didn't hang around for dessert which was probably a good thing as the tradition for the army chaps I was with is to eat it sans cutlery, with hands behind backs and the dessert that evening was a mousse served in a thin champagne glass which required a bizarre sucking and licking action.

I have never been seated next to a vicar since. So please peel the rind off the orange.

RECIPE: Pistachio, Lemon and Chili Florentines

After my first go at making florentines, I had the idea that pistachios, lemon and chili would be a good combo for my next batch. I totally love chili chocolate so I guess that may be where I got the idea from.

Again based on the recipe I found at Channel 4, I altered it here and there by substituting the almonds for pistachios and lightly toasting them before slightly crushing them. I added a nip of crushed chili flakes to the caramel mixture - a quarter of a teaspoon for now but I would be a little (LITTLE!) heavier handed next time.

These were slightly chewier than I made before and don't think they were as successful in texture but they were better in flavour, so I think its about upping the amount of nuts as there was too much of the sugar mixture.

Here are the changes:
I substituted the flaked almonds for 50g of shelled pistachios, lightly toasting and crushing them but I would use about 60-70g next time.
I used 80g of candied orange and lemon peel in total, omitting the glace cherries.
I added half the zest of a lemon and although I used a quarter of a teaspoon, I would redo with half a teaspoon of dried chili flakes (use you own judgment as they vary in heat and variety.)
The chocolate was dark. I like the Green & Blacks cooking chocolate.

If and when I redo these I shall post up the results with the changes but I may have a new thing I want to try at that point! It is such a bad trait I have - florentines one minute, sorbet tomorrow and homemade ricotta the next! I should master one thing before moving on in the kitchen really.

Cornish Sardines with gremolata

Look at these little darlings! Cornish sardines are wonderful and are just starting to appear at the fishmongers, although their proper season is really the end of June until February. I popped round to see my folks earlier and came out with a bag of these, as you do. I never come away from visiting them empty handed. Sometimes it's a block of pecorino, Mum's legendary meatballs, Dad's painstakingly dried herbs or home grown veg. Last week I even got a whole rack of ribs! It's not the only reason I go visit them - promise!

I was in a super rush as I had a gig to get to so needed something quick, quick, quick and these were just the ticket.

I thinly sliced some potatoes and threw them in the oven with olive oil, sea salt and some finely chopped rosemary to crispen up for about 20 mins.

I quickly washed and gutted the fish, seasoned them so they were ready to be popped into the oven for the last 8 minutes, turning once.

These little fish were so fresh so I thought a simple gremolata would work a treat with them and just poured this over once they had come out of the oven, serving them with some green beans.

Super quick and nutritious fish and chips, perfect on the fly!