REVIEW: Woodies Diner, Brighton

It is quite rare for me to go out for a burger, but every time I do I wonder why I don't do it more often. There really is nothing like a tasty burger and in the burger drought that is Brighton, there is only one place I think of when I do get a hankering.

Woodies Diner is well known amongst us Brightonians. It's tucked out the way on the seafront in Hove (a meat-fix scarily close to Heather Mills' new V-Bites café) so you only really get local folks in there. You can soak up those diner vibes with the 50's style interior, juke box, vintage surfboards and Formica tabletops, which sounds cheesy and it is. Hawksmoor it ain't. But hey, I like it and so do the crowds that flock there. Families, groups of kids and adults alike and couples fill it up for no-frills but tasty, decent, fun food. Thick shakes, floats, burgers named after classic American cars and eye-popping ice cream sundaes are served up by cheery young staff in cute diner outfits.

And to top it all off the paper mats allow you to oggle retro surfers while you wait for your food. Nice!

BUT. It's been a while since my last visit and things have certainly changed. The buns–which arguably maketh the burger–used to be tasty and a good texture (although dusted in flour which is one thing I don't miss). These have now gone and been replaced with flabby, cheap, soft buns. Food Stories Helen would freak out. The moist, tender burger patties I remember were now smaller and on this occasion had been cooked to the death so they had completely dried out. The fries were now stodgy fat chips that had made the very short trip out of a freezer bag to the fryer. Glorified kiddies food.

Fonzie would turn down his usually perky thumbs to this. It seems Woodies has catastrophically lost it's food spark and as nice as the staff and the diner is, if the burgers don't cut it there is only so long they can rely on their reputation and past Happy Days.

Mr. GF is happy with one change though. They have started doing scantily clad surfer girl mats for the boys.

RECIPE: Minestrone Soup with Roast Pork Loin and Root Vegetables

The nights are getting chilly and this is exactly the sort of thing I'm craving to warm me up. I roast a lean, smoked pork loin in the oven with sage the day before so it can be cubed and added to the soup, releasing its smoky flavour and saltiness. Sometimes I like to add some cooked borlotti beans halfway between the root vegetables and pork stages.

Makes a good 6 portions.

Small smoked pork loin, roasted in the oven with sage, cooled and cubed
2tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 sticks of celery, chopped
Chilli flakes or a 2cm piece of fresh chilli, chopped with seeds
Large swede, peeled and diced
2-3 large potatoes, peeled and diced
Large butternut squash, peeled and diced
4 parsnips, peeled and diced
5 carrots, peeled and diced
2 ripe tomatoes, skin removed
2 tablespoons of tomato puree concentrate
Chicken stock or stock made up using a good quality bullion
A few stalks of parsley or oregano, finely chopped
Small handful of either spinach, greens or cabbage, shredded
Salt and pepper

Dice all of the root veg.

In a big, heavy bottomed saucepan, gently fry the onion, celery and chilli in olive oil, making sure it doesn't brown, for about 10 minutes. Add all of the diced root vegetables and sautee for a few minutes.

Pour in enough stock to just cover the vegetables. If it is a strong stock, use part stock, part water. Add the puree, chopped tomato and chopped herbs.

Bring to the boil then reduce to a gently simmer for 20 minutes, stirring every now and again.

Add the cubed pork and shredded greens and simmer for a further 10 minutes, until the root vegetables are tender .

Season to taste and serve with grated parmesan and hunks of good bread.

RECIPE: Homemade Sausages Antonio Carluccio Style

This recipe is from Antonio Carluccio's new book Simple Cooking which I've recently reviewed here. This was the first thing I cooked from it and having had so much fun making it, I think it deserves a post all of its own. You really must try this!

Making sausages sounds quite difficult and it is really. I've had a few punts at it, grappling round with the slimy casing and getting into an all manner of giggling fits with the sausage machine. But this technique of wrapping the meat like sweets in foil and poaching briefly allows you to make sausages mid-week in no time at all! This method is not for preserving sausages, just a way to form the shape. I love the possibilities it opens up and experimenting with different spicing will keep any food geek entertained for hours.

Sausages served with lentils cooked in stock is something I absolutely adore, so satisfying and hearty. The fennel, chilli and rosemary flavours in these sausages are a classic combination that suit the lentils particularly well and are my absolute favourite.

I've included some pictures in the method just to highlight how easy it is.

Serves 4

2 garlic cloves, peeled and squashed
50g sun-dried tomatoes, cut into strips
7 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
250g Castelluccio lentils
450ml chicken stock
2 celery stalks, with leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper

For the Sausages
500g minced pork
50ml strong red wine
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 mild chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp chopped rosemary
Salt and pepper

For the lentils, fry the garlic and the sun-dried tomatoes in 6 tbsp of the olive oil for a few minutes in a large pan. When the garlic starts to turn pale golden, add the lentils, stock and celery and cook for 30 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Cover and keep warm over a low heat.

Meanwhile in a medium-sized bowl, mix the sausage ingredients well together and season with salt and pepper. Take a handful of mince and roll it into a sausage shape 8cm long and 3cm in diameter. Wrap tightly in a piece of foil, closing by turning the ends as you would a sweet.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Poach the sausages in the boiling water until they pop up to the surface, about 2-3 minutes. Leave to cool a little, then take off the foil. This poaching should ensure that the sausages hold together.

Moisten the sausages with the remaining oil, then fry or grill (or roast) until golden on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add the sausages to the warm lentils and allow to cook gently together for 5 minutes. Eat with bread or, if you like, with a few boiled potatoes.

BOOK REVIEW: Antonio Carluccio's Simple Cooking

Instead of talking through the book and giving my opinion at the end I'll tell you now. I liked this book very much indeed. A lot of my fondness of this book could be the fact that I think Antonio Carluccio is a wonderful man and cook and I have used a lot of his reliable recipes over the years. Thinking back, the first cookbook I ever bought at sweet sixteen was Antonio Carluccio's Feast.

Antonio Carluccio has no air of ego about him and with all the pomp and effing of many of the other celeb chefs he is always there, in the background, quietly doing what he does best. I don't thing anybody could say anything negative about him. In fact when I got this book I gave it a little hug!

A fungi foraging food super hero, Antonio Carluccio could easily be a member of one of my Italian family. And probably because of that, I felt so comfortable with his recipes, tone and persona that I decided to review his book by cooking, untrialled, three of his recipes for a dinner party.

You can judge this book by it's title. Antonio Carluccio's Simple Cooking is just that, championing his MOF MOF (Minimum of Fuss, Maximum of Flavour) methods. Inside you will find real Italian classics that sit alongside more regional Italian cooking and some of Antonio's own inventions, most of which can be created with just a few good quality ingredients in little time.

After releasing thirteen books, this one brings together all of Antonio's knowledge, secrets and tips amassed over fifty years of cooking. Growing up in a typical Italian home, he had absorbed his mothers' creative, thrifty ways and passion for fresh food and was often sent to forage for wild foods. When he was a student in Vienna, along with this strong food foundation, he learned how to make his basic larder work, especially to charm the ladies!

There are a few spreads at the start of this book which explain the classic Italian flavours and the contents of an essential Italian larder. Each section are also explained with a little light-hearted information and tips. It is only the pasta section that is explained on a further two spreads! Antonio talks through types of pastas, the appropriate sauces (no bolognese on spaghetti!) and the correct way to cook and eat pasta. Follow these little rules and you will never suffer a mediocre plate of pasta again, he promises. Listen to the man, I say.

Each recipe is offered with a little history of the dish or some ingredient information, which is always nice. A little fork symbol at the end of some of the recipes give further tips on using leftovers (leftovers? what are they?) or making a dish more "special" with some additional ingredients or reworking it into another form. It shows how adaptable and thrifty Italian food is, deriving from the days where it suffered poverty, and yet with smart knowledge of ingredients and techniques, Italians still ate like royalty whenever they could.

For my dinner party, I decided to cook Arancini di Riso (Little rice balls), Green Gnocchi with Tomato and Mozzarella and something that I have not eaten for many years, Zabaglione with Bitter Chocolate Sauce.

*Please excuse the quality of my food photography. It does not do Antonio's food justice. Balancing 5 new-to-me courses and writing notes made me an odd enough host. Making my friends wait hungry whilst I spend a long time on the photography would not have made me very popular*

The arancini, a Sicilian speciality, I adapted a little bit by popping a little mozzarella in the middle and making them big, as Antonio suggests in the introduction. I made a simple saffron risotto and after letting it cool, mixed it with beaten egg, seasoning, Parmesan and nutmeg. These were shaped into balls, popping a little mozzarella inside, then coated in beaten egg then rolled in breadcrumbs which Antonio gives you the recipe for. After deep frying they look exactly like scotch eggs but once you break into them, the mozzarella oozes and the risotto crumbles, you know you are in for a real treat. My friends, hoovered theirs up before I managed to take a photograph of mine!

Gnocchi can have quite a high disaster factor. The potato variety plus the recipe quantities can leave you with either bullets or soup. Antonio's recipe gave me the best gnocchi result ever. Light but firm, I though they were excellent and his tips on preparing the spinach so there was no water, contributed to the success. I loved the spinach in them and the simple 20 minute tomato sauce to accompany them was lovely. This has now replaced my usual gnocchi recipe. Again empty plates (and wiped cupboard-clean with bread) from my guests.

After a pasta course of homemade tagliatelle with mushrooms and truffle, plus a cheese course (Antonio would approve) we were back on track with the man with his recipe for Zabaglione. This is a sort of boozy Italian custard/mousse dessert which is very common. You can serve it hot or cold and I decided to chill mine. I have only ever had it alone, but this recipe has a bitter chocolate sauce. Unfortunately I found the sauce too thick and over powered the Zabaglione, which is quite some feat as it is very strong in alcohol. It also didn't make the dessert look very pretty so I lightly dusted the top with cocoa. My friends (albeit full at this point) still polished it off regardless so maybe it was just me who wasn't convinced on the sauce!

I have a feeling that this book will become one of my well-used and dog eared cookbooks over time. There are so many more of the recipes I want to cook; Cabbage and Onion pasta, Spinach and Artichoke Tart and a simple version of a Timbale to name a few.

A few days before I cooked the Umbrian Lentil and Homemade Sausage Stew which included a very unusual (but genius) method of making sausages and was the most amount of cooking fun I've had in ages. This deserves a post all on its own so I shall share that tomorrow. You HAVE to try that one.

It wouldn't be me if I didn't comment on the design and photography of the book and as simple as it is, it has been beautifully executed. The layout is nothing new but perfectly suits the food. I like the way that Antonio's strong, well used hands are practically in every photograph, peeling or chopping something. The pages that have thumbnails of the process of the dish are a great idea that helps you feel connected with Antonio's cooking.

The font used for the Italian recipe headings gives it a hands-on rustic feel, whilst the typography used for the recipes is clear and simple. The book feels great on good quality, satin paper.

I heartily recommend this book, especially if you want to get under the skin of real Italian cooking without sweating over a hot stove for hours on end.

Oh, and if you do buy this book, remember to give it a little hug.

Available from £12.00 (£20 RRP)

Many thanks to Quadrille Publishing for sending me this review copy.

RECIPE: Polenta Crusted Cod

This is a great crunchy alternative to breadcrumbs and can be used on any chunky white fish, giving it a delicious zesty coating.

For 2 people


50g polenta
1 lemon, zest peeled off and reserved
1 clove garlic
3-4 big sprigs of flat leaf parsley
1 medium egg, beaten
2 cod fillets, MSC certified
2 tbsp olive oil

Chop the zest, garlic clove and parsley as fine as you can, alternatively, whizz up in a processor. Mix with the polenta and transfer to a large flat plate.

Beat the egg and season in a shallow bowl.

If like me you like to have a nice big portion of fish, you may find it easier to cut into two smaller pieces per person.

Dip the fish into the egg then into the polenta mix, pressing firmly to coat thoroughly.

Heat the oil in a frying pan on a medium heat, cook the fish for about 5 minutes each side until the polenta crust is golden and the fish is cooked through.

RECIPE: Italian breaded chicken and the origins of "the parmo"

I really couldn't believe my eyes when I read about the "parmo", a Teeside post-booze takeaway delicacy of fried breaded chicken, topped with bechamel sauce and covered in melted cheese. The name Parmo derives from Pollo alla Parmigiana, but I guess it is easier to call for a parmo after a skinful.

Parmigiano means "from Parma", a northern Italian town in the food mamma-ship region that is Emilia Romagna. So no, it is not meant to contain Parmesan cheese.

Thinly cut, breaded and fried veal, pork or chicken is a very common dish in Italy but I have never eaten or seen it topped with anything, least of all bechamel sauce! As Italian food varies between regions, I thought I just may not have come across it before. Typically you tend to only eat the cuisine from your region and because every Italian thinks (and argues!) that their own is best, whole areas of Italian cuisine can be easily missed.

After a bit of research I couldn't find the origins of the authentic Italian "parmo". The closest I got was a popular tomato sauce and mozzarella topped breaded chicken dish called Chicken Parmigiana that has evolved outside of Italy. It seems to be most popular in America and Australia, two countries that have huge settlements of Italian immigrants. Still scratching my head about the Teeside parmo love though!

Image via Wikipedia by Karl Bomersbach

As loved as it is, I'm not convinced on this dish but what the hell do I know, because Asda is apparently selling 6,000 chicken parmos a week in their store in Teeside, the shop's fastest selling item. Due to their growing success Asda are thinking of rolling out the line nationally.

Until that time, here is my recipe for breaded chicken, of course veal and pork can be used as well. I don't know why but cooking this method produces the most moorish, succulent meat. Perfect on its own with just some slices of lemon, sauteed potaoes and a salad. But if you wish to top this recipe with bechamel or tomato sauce, pepperoni, garlic butter, cheddar cheese, pineapple or whatever, then knock yourselves out.

The breadcrumbs I use are packeted Italian breadcrumbs that give a much better result than homemade.

I bring back suitcase loads of these (god help me if customs stop me) but you must be able to get them in good Italian delis or online. For example, the Mulino Bianco range is good and available here. Homemade breadcrumbs can be used but just make sure they are very dry and extremely fine.

Take either a chicken breast or veal or pork escalope and using a meat mallet, bash it until very, very thin. The thinner, the better but you still need to pick the piece up without it breaking! Beat an egg in a bowl and season. On a large flat plate spread out your breadcrumbs. Coat the meat in the egg mixture then dip into the breadcrumbs, pressing down firmly.

In a large frying pan, pour in enough olive oil to cover the base of pan and heat. Fry the bread crumbed meat, tuning once, until golden.

Pop onto the plate with the kitchen roll and place in an oven on a low temperature to keep warm if you are doing a big batch.

RECIPE: Red Velvet cake from the Hummingbird Bakery

Ever since seeing the Armadillo wedding cake in the 1989 film Steel Magnolias, I have been slightly obsessed with the Southern United States classic, Red Velvet cake, a moist vanilla chocolate sponge. It is so alien, shocking red and dramatically contrasts with the classic cream cheese frosting. I've never made it before, but recently both The Catty Life and Gourmet Chick have featured a Red Velvet recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook so that I could not resist anymore.

Screen shot from Steel Magnolias: Original image source not known - give me a heads up if this is yours!

The ingredients are a little unusual and the vinegar may get a few double-looks. One school of thought is that the reaction of vinegar and buttermilk helps turn the cake a more intense reddish brown. The other is that the vinegar reacts with the baking powder, fizzing it up, creating gas and helping it rise. I would go with the latter theory.

This recipe call for a lot of electric whisking and the first stage creaming the butter with the sugar with a hand held whisk just covered my kitchen and myself in a sugar storm. I'd champion the old-school wooden spoon for that bit in future.

Although you can make 12 large cupcakes, I chose to make this as a cake using two 20cm tins. They also suggest Dr Oetker Red Colouring, not the ‘Natural Red’ or ‘Scarlett’ to get the right red.

The top of the cake was decorated with granulated sugar coloured with a drop of red colouring. Spreading out the mixture on a plate and popping it on top of the hot cooker to dry out whilst the cake is cooking will dry out the colouring so you can sprinkle easily.

Thanks to @samuraijen, @hollowlegs and @dksfood for confirming that a tablespoon of lemon juice in milk is a good substitute for the buttermilk. It worked a treat - cheers!

60 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150 g caster sugar
1 egg
10 g cocoa powder
20 ml red food colouring (preferably Dr. Oetker Red Food Colouring)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
120 ml buttermilk
150 g plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1½ teaspoons white wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F) Gas 3.

Put the butter and the sugar in a bowl and beat (using a wooden spoon although it says an electric whisk) until light and fluffy and well mixed. Turn the mixer up to high speed, slowly add the egg and beat until everything is well incorporated.
In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, red food colouring and vanilla extract to make a thick, dark paste. Add to the butter mixture and mix thoroughly until evenly combined
and coloured (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula).

Turn the mixer down to slow speed and slowly pour in half the buttermilk. Beat until well
mixed, then add half the flour, and beat until everything is well incorporated. Repeat this process until all the buttermilk and flour have been added. Scrape down the side of the bowl again. Turn the mixer up to high speed and beat until you have a smooth, even mixture. Turn the mixer down to low speed and add the salt, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. Beat until well mixed, then turn up the speed again and beat for a couple more minutes.

Spoon the mixture into greased tins and bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes, or until the sponge bounces back when touched. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean. Leave the cake to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting

300g icing sugar, sifted
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g cream cheese, cold

Beat the icing sugar and butter together with an electric mixer on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed.

Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed.

Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny. When the cake is completely cold, spoon half the cream cheese frosting between the layers and the rest on top.

You may have tons of frosting left over as some people like much less frosting that the Americans do. After a Google, it seems that frosting freezes particularly well so that is what I have done with mine for future cupcake baking.

Waiter! There's some art in my food.

I like art. I like design, I like food. Graphic Foodie innit.

At art school I remember being quite drawn to (and a bit freaked out by) the fruit and veg portraits of Renaissance artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who was perhaps the first artist to use food as art in the mid 1500s. But that was a long time ago and let's just say things have, er, advanced since then.

For instance, who the bejeez would think that sculptures of your head in cheese could be an untapped market? Or the Pope expressed by the medium of pizza dough appropriate? Questions I never thought I would ask myself.

Take Norma "Duffy" Lyon, famous for her life-sized cow sculptures made from butter. But they are nothing compared to her Last Supper effort.

Image via Mental floss (as well as 9 other butter sculptures)

"When another corporate gift won’t due, order a miniature cheese carving and surprise your recipient with the most unusual gift they’ve received in years." You're damn right. Or better still, why not surprise your loved one this Christmas with a commission of their head in cheese? No fear of them guessing what it is before hand.

Image via

Chinese artist Song Dong used 72,000 biscuits, give or take a Hob Nob, to make an entire city. I think this is kinda cool.

Images via BBC News

The Colosseum in pizza dough was whipped up by Prudence Emma Staite. (I was trying to think of a pun around glad-he-ate-her but I've lost the will to live here.)

Image via

Japanese sushi chef Ken Kawasumi doesn't think that sushi is decorative enough as it is.

Image via Tokyotimes

I've found some foreign objects in my food in my time but I'd be amazed to see these little fellas.

Images form Fresh99

And you thought fiddling with the Edam wax was playing with your food.

Louise Buchan teacup jewellery

For the eccentric Brit in all of us, charming charms and Sunday-best china inspired jewellery from Louise Buchan.

Images via @workgallery

RECIPE: Baked Figs with Honey, Orange Flower, Walnuts and thyme

Ladies and gentlemen rejoice because fig season is upon us.

I love fresh figs and I'm sure many of you must have heard me moan* about the quality and price of figs in the UK, not a patch on the green jammy figs I gorge myself on if I'm lucky to find myself in Italy in fig season. But finding them on offer in the supermarket for 15p it is difficult to refuse. And yeah, they are flown in from somewhere that actually had some sun this summer. Some people rob banks, steal cars or poke people in the eye. I buy imported fruit once in a while - call the foodie cops for I have sinned.

Baking figs like these, which have been picked a tad early to aid them in transportation, is a good way of releasing their jamminess and caramel chewiness which in my book, equals happiness.

This is an easy and super quick pud, based on a recipe by Tamasin Day-Lewis. The thyme works so well with the figs and the flavour walnuts release when they are warmed in sweet syrup is like an early taste of Christmas.

Serves 4

8 figs
2tbsp honey
Knob of butter
1 tbsp orange flower essence
(optional) 1 tbsp of Amaretto liqueur, or a thick, treacle-like sherry like Pedro Ximenez
Handful of shelled and lightly crushed walnuts (try to avoid the rancid pre-shelled pieces from the bakery aisle)
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
Crème fraîche or mascarpone to serve

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

In a small saucepan, gently heat the honey, butter, orange flower and booze (if using) until melted an runny.

Cut a deep cross on the top of each fig and place in an ovenproof dish. Press down on each quarter to part the fig and stuff with the walnuts. Pour over the honey liquid and roast for 15 minutes.

Turn off the oven and strip the leaves from the thyme twigs, sprinkling a few leaves on each fig. Baste the figs with the liquid in the dish, which should have turned a beautiful purply-rose colour. Pop back in the turned off oven for 10 minutes.

Serve with a nice dollop of crème fraîche or mascarpone cheese, both work perfectly with the sweetness of the figs.