Jamie Oliver's Recipease store, Brighton

Mr Oliver has certainly claimed his patch on Brighton lately with the recent opening of his Jamie's Italian restaurant and the even more recent Recipease store. As only the second of Jamie's new stores to open in the UK, this big pink block on the high street has caused quite a bit of intrigue amongst the locals, including myself. I had the idea that as well as being a kitchen equipment and prepared foods shop, they offered cookery classes of some sort but assumed that they would be very basic and designed for the Pot Noodlers of this world.

But I still wanted to see what it was about exactly so I decided to try out one of the classes. The idea of
Recipease is that it is, as Jamie puts it, a "food education centre", a place where you can shop, learn, and create.

Yes, they cater for people who know nothing about cooking but, as it happens, haven't excluded the people that do know a little or indeed a lot. You can pop in, sling on an apron and whip up a pizza or curry as you are passing with
pre chopped ingredients, attend a 20 minute Easy To Make session with simple family dishes (price per dish, £0.85-£15.95) or go the whole hog with an Easy To Learn session (£25-£35) which are a bit more advanced with butchery, fish filleting and knife skills. The store kitchen also prepares "ready meals" if you really don't have the time.

The concept of the store great because it is a high street venue where people are encouraged to go in, have a punt and have casual access to (friendly not
shouty) professional chefs for advice. Believe it or not, there are people that don't know how to cook and even more horrifying, people who don't really care either. Yes, the prepared food may seem expensive to people who are used to cooking from scratch with great ingredients, but for people who are used to getting take aways and ready meals, the prices are probably comparable. At least here there is a chance these people may be converted to actually cooking something or at the very, very least swap their mass produced, additive cocktail convenience foods for something, well, a bit more real.

I went for the Easy to Learn Amazing Lamb Rack session (£35) which lasted about 2 hours, kicking off with a nice sit down and a cup of tea. This was ideal for me as my butchery skills are up there with my singing, last witnessed at a bizarre Chinese karaoke restaurant where I was told, in no
uncertain terms, to shut up.

The class was led by Elly a professional chef who has 8 years of fine dining under her apron belt and was supported by the knowledgeable chef Alex. Elly has taught junior members of professional kitchens before but this was her first stint with the, let's face it, scary public and a fine job she did too. You are firstly given a complete demonstration of the dish where you can ask questions about the process, ingredients or anything else that pops into your mind then you are set at your own workstation. All the ingredients have been set out for you ready, so you can just crack on. Elly and Alex were always on hand to help out or give you any tips.

Our small class of six learnt the tricky art of French trimming a rack of lamb, where to make the incisions and techniques on scraping the bones clean. We then stuffed it with a gorgeous, salty feta, olive and sun dried tomato mixture, trussed it up and finally created and coated the lamb in a simple garlic and rosemary marinade. When you are finished they plonk your effort on top of a load of prepared veg in a classic enamel baking dish (nice touch), wrap it up with cooking instructions and you are good to go with a full main meal for 4 people.

Truthfully, I wasn't expecting the level of quality in either the teaching or the products that I found (lamb was from the Fifteen restaurant suppliers). The staff are
hoppingly passionate, so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about what they are doing, you can't help leaving with good feeling. I got quite a lot out of it as this is not my normal style of cooking and what was really nice was the additional little tips and tricks thrown in there like pitting olives by pressing down with your thumbs, the benefits of cultivating a relationship with your butcher, and the different types of lamb from around the world and how and why their surroundings and diet affect their taste.

Back at home it was a simple case of popping the supplied tray in the oven. The meal even passed the test with the tough audience that is my food fanatical Italian family who had come round for dinner. The lamb was butterly tender and sweet, contrasting beautifully with the salty, rich stuffing. Whilst feta would not have normally been my first choice for a lamb stuffing, I did enjoy it and has got me thinking outside the box of what I could use next time.

I really was ready to find just a bit of a money spinner for the Oliver enterprise, thinly veiled with good intentions, because believe me, I'm one of the most cynical people at times. But I genuinely left upbeat and inspired to wield a knife on a rack of lamb again. Cookery classes, particularly casual ones are not common round these parts, so I think Recipease will prove to be a really useful venue for Brightonians.

For me, (food aside) design is pretty much everything and the
Recipease store is beautiful. Chalk boards and brown stringed tags with little messages or ideas here and there all help create this welcoming atmosphere (wasn't allowed to take pics so take my word for it). The store's kitchen is in the back and the kitchen area used for classes is on the shop floor, cleverly creating a bit of excitement and intrigue from passing shoppers. For those attending a class, it is a bit like being on a TV cookery programme, but hey, some of you out there may like that!

I do really respect Sir Jamie of Oliver for his obvious passion for getting people to cook. Yeah, he is a very wealthy, well marketed chap who seems to put his name to every plate, whisk and whistle going, but which other celeb chef has given such a public service to food?

Italian best dressed greens with either Garlic and Chilli or Garlic and Lemon

This is such a simple recipe that I never thought to share it on this blog. It is so ordinary for me I guess I take it for granted. So, inspired by the enthusiasm this humble little recipe received from fellow blogger, Dan from Essex Eating, I thought I should share.

After pasta, which in the old parts they still eat every day, the Italians like to serve up a dish with some form of greens that have been blanched and dressed. Most country folk still grow their own, so a big bag of cabbage, spring greens, radicchio or spinach will turn up just as dinner is being prepared. I can only imagine the simplicity of this dish came from having to cook these field-fresh veg quickly and simply, whilst the pasta was on the boil. Sometimes they are eaten with grilled meat, but often it they are served on their own, with some lovely chewy bread to mop up the infused oil. There is always a bread war in my family for the mopping up bit!

Even as Italians living in the UK, I was brought up with my greens prepared this way (and grown by the old man in the garden) which is how I grew up to be so big and strong. Well, strong maybe, I'm only 5ft1! When I first met Mr. GF, he wasn't really keen on his veg, having only experienced them รก la boiled to the death. This peasant dish was really the catalyst which has turned him into a veg eating monster. There is nothing he doesn't like and he even goes as far to say I've added years to his life (which I then duly cancel out with my "highly-spirited" nature.)

As I received an Abel & Cole organic veg box this week, I decided to use the cabbage and the tops from the beetroot (waste not, want not) to explain this recipe and its variations. My favourite version is using spring greens with the chilli, but it really is perfect for any leafy green and really good to add flavour to cauliflower or broccoli (especially the Romanesco kind).

If the leaves have tougher stalks, for example the red stalks of the beet tops, I blanch or steam these first then follow with the leaves after a few moments to avoid the leaves wilting too much.

Chilli & garlic (image above)
I like this version for the tougher, greener leaves like cabbages and for spring greens.
Blanch or steam the leaves until they are tender. Drain them very well. In a large pan, heat a really good glug of olive oil (remember the more you put, the more you can mop up!) with a couple of cloves of garlic and as much chilli, fresh or dried, as you prefer. Add the drained vegetables and toss them through the heated oil for a few minutes, evaporating any water. Season with a slightly heavy handed pinch of sea salt. Let it cool a little before devouring!

Garlic & lemon (shown in the top image)
This is used for the younger or lighter leaves like radicchio, beet tops and spinach and for cauliflower and broccoli.
Blanch the veg until tender but firm. Leave them to cool a bit but whilst they are still warm dress them with olive oil, thinly sliced garlic, freshly squeezed lemon juice and sea salt. You can eat them still warm or let them go cold.

These can be served as they are intended after some pasta, or served with a lovely creamy buffalo mozzarella, or even as part of an antipasto plate. But always, always with a slice of good, hard and chewy bread.

What I did with my Abel & Cole organic veg box

Ok, so there has been quite a lot of Abel & Cole boxes send out amongst the food blogsphere and a lot of blog chat about gratis products in general. As long as they are clearly disclosed as a free item (as this one I received was), I don't have a problem with these products. Times have changed and social media is a huge part of business marketing so Abel & Cole are just one of many companies with an active, up to date marketing plan. Well done them. Plus, they encouraged honest opinion and for someone who has an opinion on everything, I was happy to give it. So enough of that because it's boring now. On we go...

As belts tighten, organic produce may be something a lot of people will sacrifice for price. I did a quick tot up of the fruit and veg in the box and think I would have actually spent a little more in the supermarket. This was mainly due to the big bag of broad beans which were £2.99 for less on my last look. Them Apples blog did a really good price comparison which was interesting and showed a negligible difference between the two. Very surprising.

This small mixed box would cost £10.95 and included:
6 apples
a bunch of beetroot
a green cabbage
Jersey Royal potatoes
green lettuce
a small melon
4 nectarines
nice bag of broad beans
a few spring onions

The quality of produce was really good. Just the lettuce looked a little sad and wilted, but it was the first thing to be eaten and was delicious, although I don't think it would have lasted longer than another day.

So how was it all used up?

The lettuce was served alongside Mr. GF's legendary homemade pizza.

Broad beans were used in a warm salad with the Jersey potatoes and bacon, served with roasted chicken.

Beetroot was made into a shocking coloured slaw alongside some of the carrots, apples and spring onions and served with duck.

I did some peasant-style side dishes with the cabbage and the beetroot tops. I have a separate post in the pipeline for this amazing, traditional Italian method of serving up your greens. Life changing, no lie.

Fruit was taken to work and eaten as snacks and any remaining veg was used up in a soup at the end of the week.

Overall I would say this was good value for money and creates a bit of excitement as you peer in to see what's in the box. It was a great amount of veg for one person but it did feed two of us almost the whole week with only a couple of additional vegetables. The slaw I made was for 5 people so quite a lot of carrots and all of the beetroot went in there, but would have done another meal.

I like their ethos, the attention to detail and the recipe ideas on their beautifully designed website if you are stuck on what to do with a certain item.

Most importantly, boxes can be tailored to your own preferences so cabbage haters can breathe easy. I must say, shopping for food is an event I really enjoy in my sad little life. I love literally cherry-picking cherries and spending an age sniffing melons for the best one to the pains of other shoppers behind me. But I do think it is a super idea for those unable to easily reach good produce through working times or location, don't have cars to carry heavy items or who just prefer the convenience of having their food delivered.

Delivery isn't a big deal at just 99p and their website will sometimes have offers and discounts worth checking out. Their range is also expanding and includes seasonal ranges, meat, dairy, store cupboard produce, drinks, selected prepared foods and even eco cleaning products too.


SHOPPING: Best cake stands

Afternoon tea is BACK! Rock it with the cream of the crop cake stands.

When I move into a place bigger than the shoebox I'm currently living in, I shall fill a cupboard full of cake stands. Here are some that are on my wishlist.

This may not everyone's cup of tea and a bit "twisted Alice in Wonderland" but the Blaue Blume 3 tier cake stand by Undergrowth Design, really makes a statement. Available from Lifestle Bazaar, £129.95. There is a full tea set too in this design, and I love the teapot and lace plates and the fact you can choose either red or gold shoes. But no, maybe not one for when granny visits.

My favorite are these from Clara French. They are rather fancy and have a price tag to suit ($160 - $340) but my, oh my... look at the dripping glaze detail and the colours are just perfect.

You can still pick up the odd stand in a charity shop but they are much sought after and increasingly rare. There is one charity shop I love in Brighton but they now charge around £10-£15 for a simple glass stand as they are savvy with their pricing and fashions. I don't care as the money goes to a good cause and the finding is half the fun. But if you can't be bothered to thrift yourself, you can buy vintage pressed glass cake stands from RE, £14-£22 or these reproduction American milk glass stands, made with original moulds which are £27-£54. I like their other finds but the website and navigation is jolly annoying to use. Grrr.

And if you are feeling handy, Design Sponge have a cake stand project on their blog, so you could make one yourself! Brilliant as I can now justify all those odd plates I get from charity shops. Some people snort white powder, some drink a bottle of gin before noon. Odd cracked plates with faded patterns are my drugs. Seriously it is becoming an issue.

Images from the respective linked sites

RECIPE: Mackerel, Pollack & Horseradish Fishcakes

Oh, I love fish cakes. Proper fishcakes mind, not those weird orange discs you used to get at school or down the chippie. And not like the mushy ones you often are served in some restaurants either. I have been making these on and off for ages now and tailor them to whatever fish I have in and tweaked them so they are just how I like them.

One of the things I've found is that they are much better made late the previous night and popped in the fridge. The other thing is that the potatoes are better ever, ever so slightly under done. Both of these things will eliminate the mush factor.

I've made small versions of these as starters and are my staple for mid-week supper nights with friends as everything is prepared and quick to cook when I get back from work.

Serves 4 / 8 fishcakes

500g white potatoes
200g smoked mackerel fillets
300g of cooked pollack / other white fish
3 tbsp hot horseradish sauce
a bunch spring onions
grated zest from half a lemon
a small handful of tarragon / dried is fine if you have none fresh
2 tbsp plain seasoned flour
1 large egg
200g breadcrumbs*
sunflower or vegetable oil

Boil the potatoes (remember to take them off the boil slightly underdone) and drain very well, leaving them in the colander for a while to cool. Mash well.
Into the mash flake the mackerel and other fish, removing any skin and bones. Add the horseradish, zest, very finely chopped spring onions and herbs and mix well. Season if needed.

Divide the mixture into 8 balls, making sure they are pressed together firmly. Dust the balls with the seasoned flour, then coat with egg and roll with in breadcrumbs. Form a nice flat round shape and pop onto a clean plate. Cover and pop in the fridge overnight. You can use them the same day but I would still give them an hour to chill.

Take them out for about an hour to take the fridge chill off and shallow fry in the oil until lovely and crisp.

I serve them with a salad, lemon wedges and chutney or a salsa.

* I have a mini chopper that I blitz all slightly stale or hard ends of good quality bread into crumbs, then pop them into a bag in the freezer for future use. So easy and gives you a never ending supply of decent breadcrumbs.