BOOK REVIEW: Easy Tasty Italian by Laura Santtini

Alchemy, star dust, U-bombs, food bling, lyrics from Great Balls of Fire, quotes from the creator of the Sufi branch of Islam and Japanese word of the moment, umami. Yup, we are talking about Italian food here, and Laura Santtini is on a mission to revolutionise the way we perceive it.

Italians are incredibly stubborn when it comes to food and there are so many "rules" to obey. Traditions and methods are religiously practiced and any deviation away from these rules opens a whole can of mamma mia and impassioned arm waving. This obviously has the benefit of protecting recipes and creating heritage but it can be, well, just jolly annoyingly restrictive at times.

So I was excited to receive a book that wasn't afraid of Nonna's rolling pin across the back of the legs but yet, as I flicked through "Easy Tasty Italian", I was beginning to wonder if mamma was right all along.

For one, recipes that requires ingredients such as gold leaf and Mexican cacao powder and prior preparations of spice mixes (or as Santtini calles them, "Star Dust"), it 'aint easy. There are a few basic recipes for pasta sauces, risottos and meat dishes which you can choose to keep simple or you could, as suggested, drop a "U-Bomb" (that's umami bomb) on it by adding the additional listed ingredients.

The copy style as you may have gathered above is er, different. The sections are not titled as you would expect in Starters, Mains and Desserts, but are instead organised into the elements of Air (I Was Raw), Water (I Was Cooked), Fire (I Was Burned), Earth (I Am Tasty) which was inspired by a quote from Mevlana, creator of the Sufi branch of Islam. The rest of the titles are puntastic with gems such as Whipping It Up (basic mayonnaise), Hey Pesto!, Rubbing It In (basic rubs) and Love Me Tender (marinades). These little copy nudges, winks and titters are peppered throughout the whole book and did start to grate by the end. At times it felt like I was trapped in a room full of flamboyant, rich, nipped and tucked yummy mummies tanked up on white wine.

Now for the design! I can say with 8 years of designing under my belt that visually it looks like this book may have suffered with a bit too much client intervention. The intention to create something different is there which is great, I'm an advocate for thinking outside the box if it's relevant. But you have food displayed like make up in glossy fashion mags on one page, Sex Pistols fonts, pictures of Elvis, retro advertising, utterly random quotations and snaps from the family album making up the chaotic pick n' mix of someone who is trying to shoehorn in way too many ideas. The food styling itself is inconsistent and fails to tell that "story" a cookbook thrives on.

I usually like to cook something from a book to form part of my review but for the first time I really struggled to choose something I was eager to cook. I almost used the globe artichokes I had in to make the rather spectacular gold-leaf topped Gino Santin's Carcoiofo Santini but found comfort in my trusty Silver Spoon cookbook instead.

Strip it all of the glitter and fluff and there are probably some wonderful recipes in here. This book was not what I was expecting and I doubt anyone who judges this book by its title will either. I actually think naming this book Easy Tasty Italian is quite misleading.

I have had the book for a fortnight now, picking it up and flicking through, trying to understand it, trying to find some inspiration in it but it didn't happen. I'm sure some people will adore the unusual slant this book and I do recommend a flick through in a book shop to see if it is to your taste but for me it's just a concept gone cuckoo.

Easy Tasty Italian is published by Quadrille publishing and costs £20.00

I received this copy from Quadrille Publishing for review.

RECIPE: Sticky toffee bread and butter pudding by Simon Rimmer (Great British Menu series)

Nothing says "I love you" more than cooking that persons favourite dish, especially if you don’t like to eat that particular thing yourself. Mr. GF is the lover of all puddings stodge. The heavier the better. If you could use it as a brick, super. Jam roly poly, spotted dick, treacle sponge. That sort of thing. The thing I can take or leave. But it was our 11 year anniversary and they say you have to do something nice for the other person and all.

Bread and butter pudding was something I had once may moons ago at school and never wished to ever eat again but flicking though one of my many gifted and unused cookbooks, I came across a really nice sounding version of it. Instead of a huge sloppy dish of the stuff, these were made in individual ramekins, layered with melted down mejool dates and served with a sticky toffee sauce. It was time to get old school.

This recipe was found in the Great British Menu cookbook which accompanied the BBC2 programme, in which chefs competed to cook for a big finale banquet. I have owned this book for 3 years now but have never really been inspired to cook from it, probably because it’s quite “cheffy” and who the hell has time to flambee individual strands of orange zest? But the puddings in this book are rather good and quite simple compared to some of the mains.

This bread and butter pudding by the chef Simon Rimmer has made the cut into my sacred permanent file. It was so delicious and incorporation of the sticky dates worked perfectly. The toffee sauce was very sweet but on the right side of naughty so you end up licking your plate (or is that just me?). Also as the ramekins couldn’t hold much custard, it was firm and didn’t have the gloopiness that I used to associate with this pudding.

Mr. GF, you'll be pleased to know I'm a convert to stodgy puddings now :)

Serves 6

200g stoned Medjool dates
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
75g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
6 slices of white bread, crusts removed
3 free-range whole eggs
3 free-range egg yolks
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways and seeds scraped out
75g caster sugar
500ml double cream
Demerara sugar

For the sauce
100g butter
100g golden syrup
100g soft dark brown sugar
100ml double cream

Place the dates and bicarbonate of soda in a saucepan and just cover with water. Simmer gently until the dates break down.

Butter the bread, then cut each slice in half to make triangles. Layer the bread and dates in six buttered ramekins, starting and finishing with a layer of bread.

Beat together the whole eggs, yolks, seeds scraped from the vanilla pod and sugar in a bowl. Heat the cream to scalding point, then pour on to the egg mixture, mixing well. Pour over the bread and dates. Leave to soak for at least 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 175C/Gas 4.

Set the ramekins in a roasting tray filled half-way up the sides with water and bake for 16 minutes or until the custard has set (mine needed a little longer than 16 minutes).

To make the sauce, simply combine the butter, syrup and sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil. When smooth and dissolved, remove from the heat and stir in the cream. Keep warm.

Sprinkle the top of the pudding evenly with demerera sugar and caramelise under a hot grill or blow torch.

Serve with the sauce.

Say it with biscuits

Love it or hate it, the shops are blaring out Christmas music classics and decorations are stating to appear, so I guess the festive season is officially upon us. With this starts the frenzy of gift shopping and what to buy all those irritatingly difficult people in your lives.

Although I happen to be one of those difficult particular people, I loved these super cute cookies from Inteflora which are part of their Christmas Hamper range. Perfect if you want to send something other than flowers or one of those poinsettia plants that I seem to be able to kill within minutes of receiving one.

Presented in a sweet little tin, the packaging and branding were right up my street even before I sank my teeth in. The beautifully detailed biscuits were made from simple, (real) vanilla dough and despite being quite sweet with all of the icing on top, I managed to make very short work of them, allowing just a single biscuit to be eaten by someone else (Christmas the time for giving? Nah!).

Hand baked and gorgeously iced by Biscuiteers, they would make an ideal gift for even the Scroogiest of people. Cleverly, each biscuit was stuck with a little blob of icing to the tray so they travel very well.

Biscuiteers Christmas Biscuit Tin available from Interflora, £24.99

Many thanks to Interflora for sending me this tin for review purposes.

Savoyard alpine cuisine, the anti-Atkins diet and altitude eating at 3842m

A little while ago, I spent a little while yomping around the Chamonix valley in French Alps visiting some lovely friends and taking in the scenery.

The views were absolutely breathtaking as were the bread products. Over a week I made a decent dent in the bakery offerings by sampling all of their bread varieties and their croissants, brioche, pain au lait, au raisin, au chocolate, a little sugared bun whose name escapes me, a pastry cross filled with creme patisserie and a coffee eclair. Not bad going. The view and bread were combined each morning with heaps of Bonne Maman and I can't think of a better way to start the day.

Getting another good bakery tip off for the "Aux Petit Gourmand" in Chamonix (Atkins-schmatkins), we took quiches, croque monsieurs and a tarte aux noix (although I realised afterward I accidentally asked for a "tart of the night" in poor French) for a micro picnic at 3842m overlooking Mont Blanc. I took off my much needed gloves and took a quick pic of the quiche as my fingers froze. This is probably the highest thing I have ever eaten with my feet still on Earth and a beautiful rich quiche it was too. Soft but no sogginess and the spinach and cheese hugged each other for warmth.

It takes me a couple of days to feel relaxed on holiday, my stiff shoulders slacken and my frown irons out. The mountains are amazing for your wellbeing. When you get to your target destination, you turn round and the view makes all the effort worth while. As I gazed into the Chamonix valley I spied a yellow helicopter and smiled at how high I must be. It came closer, And then closer. It turned and faced towards me before advancing. I couldn't possibly land here could it? I thought. Looking around I realised that amongst the jagged rocks, I was stood on the only flat area of rock. Balls.

Hitting the deck into a shallow ditch in the rock, the wind created from the rotar blades covered me in earth and debris. Here is me in the ditch:

Apparently, he was just delivering groceries to the refuge at the top of this mountain in some extreme Tesco delivery effort. Escaping flattening, I decided to celebrate with a nice big meal out (how else do you celebrate?), my only meal out of the week, such was my friends' incredible cooking.

I was sat in the La Flambée restaurant in Argentiere surrounded by bubbling fondues and huge raclette chunks, sat on specially fashioned stands with a heat source to melt them. The melted cheese is then scooped onto potatoes and cut meats. I always research local foods before I visit anywhere and make every effort to try them. Traditional Savoyard mountain cooking is seemingly a calorific fest of cheese and potatoes with a side order of cheese followed by more cheese.

Even with the days' seven hours hiking under my belt I still felt that they would be too much so I tried a delicate sounding tartifette with chanterelles (pictured above), a dish of sliced potatoes, lardons, Reblochon cheese, cream and wine. Oooof. Never being a big fan of creamy dishes, it was tasty and the combination worked for a mouthful or two but was way too rich. Maybe if I'd been stranded supply less in the Alps for a few weeks I could have gotten through it. For dessert I tried a tarte aux myrtilles. These bilberrys grow in abundance around this area and can be found looking pretty glazed on tarts in bakery windows or in jams. Unfortunately the "tart" in this instance was not brilliant, a clump of watery and cold-from-the-fridge berries sat on a few crumbs. Local sausages cooked in wine, fois gras and a cheese board also made up this expensive meal but none of it worth writing home or on this blog about.

The food event I did enjoy on this trip however, was the visits to the supermarket. I love foreign supermarkets. Now they are what I call sight seeing. I was indulged by visiting a fair few, oohing at the veg varieties and ahhing the unfamiliar packaging and products.

I was quite restrained this time but this was my booty for this trip:

Some regional Savoyard pasta called crozets which I have found are typically cooked in a gratin of cheese and cream (ha!), rose garlic, Some Bonne Maman chestnut and vanilla spread, crazy raspberry jaffa cakes, salt, lentils, verveine tea, sausages and cheese.

Who needs plastic souvenirs, eh?

Big thank you to L&L for your incredible hospitality. Don't think I have forgotten about that recipe for the dahl!

Reblochon Cheese on Foodista

REVIEW: The Ginger Pig, Brighton

I have a handful of really strong food memories, one of them being a particularly gorgeous, air-light soufflé served with a gooey marmalade middle that I devoured at The Gingerman restaurant many years ago. Since then, The Gingerman has developed into a group of restaurants and gastro pubs that are well know for their good food.

I had been meaning to try The Ginger Pig gastro pub for a long time now but had been put off with varying reviews and lengthy queues. Happily you can now reserve a third of the tables in advance, but despite calling two weeks before, they had all gone. Willing to take a punt, our group of four were faced with an hour and a half wait. We opted for the cheap seats down in the bar area to cut the waiting time which was a shame as the main dining area had been decked out beautifully.

I've gone a bit arancini mad lately, making them three times in the past fortnight for entertaining. Never having eaten them at a restaurant, I took the opportunity with the Ginger Pig's wild mushroom arancini (or arancino as there was only one?) served with braised oxtail, smoked bacon and baby onion ragout. Far posher than my classic peasant take on this dish, the first bite was a (welcome) taste slap in the face. The rich stock and dense mushroom flavours contained in that little breaded ball were powerfully exquisite. The oxtail was a lovely texture and despite also being boldly flavoured, worked a treat with the arancini. I especially loved the little sharp baby onions. I was happy.

Next up was a roast fillet of pork, slow braised cheek with parsnip and potato gratin, black pudding puree and cider and mustard sauce. Again the meat (all supplied by Redlands Farm, West Sussex) was cooked to perfection. The pork was tender and juicy but if I knew how good the cheek was going to be, I would have ordered a bowl of those neat. So soft and sweet I had to be nudged by Mr. GF as I had closed my eyes and had a big grin on my face. (And we were dining with his mother who must think I'm a loon at the best of times.)

My eyes were snapped sharply open when I got a taste of the black pudding puree though. I adore black pudding but I did not like this puree. In fact I hated it, frantically scooping it to the edge of the plate as not to contaminate further this otherwise perfect meal. Who the hell knows what happened to this but it was a sickly sweet, cinnamon-liquorice tar. It didn't go with anything on the plate. Yerk. It was only after I'd finished that I also realised I hadn't tasted the cider and mustard sauce particularly. Maybe sauces are not their forte but it was a real shame. The gratin was comforting, creamy and with some bite left so all in all my thumbs were still pointing upward.

Everyone else on the table ordered the roast partridge which had a rather naughty looking duck fat crouton underneath. The clean plates and shining bones said everything I needed to hear. Portions were perfect and feeling a little full, I didn't need a pudding but puddings are wanted, never needed.

Mr. GF is the king of stodge puddings so anything heavy sounding is music to his ears. The apple and plum suet putting with vanilla ice cream AND custard was a delicious fruity hug in a bowl. My warm orange, quince and honey cake with Greek yogurt and quince sorbet was nice but I think the idea of it was better than the execution. The sponge was granny-cake heavy and the sorbet a little lacking in pout but overall it was a nice, pleasant pud. It just lacked some of the spark of the other dishes I had eaten.

The Ginger Pig is one hell of a gastropub and my meal left me as happy as a pig in s.... I am absolutely itching to go back and the few minor low-points were probably highlighted by the fact that they sat alongside some talented and memorable cooking.

The staff deserve a mention too. This place was full to the brim but they were so graceful and friendly throughout with eyes and ears everywhere. They run a very tight ship here, turning round tables but never seeming pushy.

Dinner came to around £30 a head without booze for 3 courses which is incredibly good value for the quality of produce.

So with Gingerman and now Ginger Pig under my belt, next on my list will be the Ginger Fox with it's cute thatched roof out in Albourne, West Sussex.

The Ginger Pig
3 Hove Street, Hove BN3 2TR
01273 736123
The Gingerman Restaurants

Sydney International Food Festival flags

Absolutely brilliant concept for the Sydney International Food Festival 2009.

Via Creative Review
Top Image via Creative review Montage image via

Paris in 8 hours: Autumnal walks, bakery goodies, tea at Ladurée and yes, Pierre Hermé macarons

Paris for me is sheer escapism, frivolity and delight. Now it is possible to be transported to the heart of the city of fabulous in just over 2 hours. The chance to grab just a few hours of Parisian air had my usual humbug self squealing delight like a little girlie.

Travelling from Brighton to St. Pancras before I even boarded the Eurostar, I didn't want to leave in the dead of night, so I gave myself just 8 hours in Paris, getting in at a humane time and being sensible with my time there.

Food is the first thing on my mind when abroad and it seems that choosing a good place to eat in Paris is like the endless task of counting the stars, so I did my homework, absorbing information from the blogs and tips from Twitter foodie friends. The most recommended restaurants, cafés, bakeries, foodie shops and sites have be sifted through and put on a Google map of Paris gems.

View The Graphic Foodie in Paris in a larger map. Special thanks to @MathildeCuisine, @EssexEating, @Goodshoeday, @msgourmetchick, Ann Henry and Paris based food blogs Chocolate and Zucchini and David Lebovitz

Obviously you would need the ability to stop time to see all of these places in one day, but it has provided me with an excuse for a few multiple returns and proved really useful on the day. There are some great places in there and proves how brilliant social media can be. Maybe I can organise the rest of my life on Twitter? Anyway, if anyone has any other places too add, just leave a comment and I shall pop it on!

My obsession with the film Amélie led me first to the Sacre Coeur. With the film reenaction of the steep run up to the basilica and "ohh" at the view under my belt, I promptly ran back down into the arms of Rose Bakery for a little snackette.

This was a popular venue (highly recommended by Clotilde Dusoulier) and not hard to see why on biting into my courgette and spinach quiche. The butter rich pastry was fine but robust and crisp. The punch of the spinach and mint in the middle was exquisite as were the crunchy little sunflower seeds. This was a good start. There was a queue for the bakery and I noticed that everywhere good had a queue. The French really don't seem to mind waiting so crowds are usually an indication of where the goodies lie.

The spectacularly coloured autumn leaves were falling, making the pretty walk through the Jardin des Tuileries all the more romantic and jolly good fun - anyone else still like kicking through the leaves? Ok, just me then. And a little river stroll is always on my agenda in Paris especially on such a perfect autumnal day.

Lunch turned out to be slightly problematic in the end. As we had eaten breakfast on the Eurostar and weren't hungry straight on arrival, it was now past 2.30pm and most of the decent restaurants were closing after lunch service. A triangular trek between Le Relaise De L'Entrecote (a restaurant with only one meal, one way - steak frites), Le Procope (for my love of old establishments) and the very highly recommended L'Epi Duplin (which turned out to be closed full stop on Saturday for lunch) plus getting a bit lost, ate into my eating time. If you are serious about a long lunch I would strongly suggest getting into Paris earlier than I did, giving you enough time to build up an appetite for a 1pm lunch. Plus I forgot about the time difference which lost me an hour anyway, duh!

I did not want to miss out on a trip to Ladurée, visiting the salon on Rue Royale earlier just for a peek, but knowing I wanted to eat in the Ladurée Bonaparte due to the interior. The sumptuous room upstairs did not disappoint and was covered in rich navy baroque fabrics, scrolled, gilded furniture and the tables set with gold edged china in candy colours.

It was so dark in there and I felt a bit uncouth taking flash photography, so do see their website for a proper peek. I chose a cathedral shaped "Religieuse" pastry which was delicately flavoured with rose and had the most incredible choux pastry. The filling revealed rose confectioners custard and fresh raspberries. I love the fact that something so naughty could be called "religieuse"! The rich tarte tatin was also excellent and the mouthful I stole was a taste that will be remembered for a very, very long time. Despite being expensive (€6-€9 per pastry, savory mains €15-28 and a pot of tea around the €6.50 mark) I would have to go down as one of my top 3 places in Paris. A must!

High on sugar, I joined another lengthy queue for the infamous Pierre Hermé macarons. Once inside, chaos ensued so I grabbed a box of all of the flavours for ease, gulping at the €23 price tag. So is the hype to be believed? Well, I haven't yet troughed the lot (hard, it's hard) but most of the ones I've sampled have been divine. How they can be so air-light and melt on the tongue? Some of the more unusual flavours are a bit hit and miss but yes, do go and try.

Armed with my macaron treasures and a bag of other foodie goodies, I looked at my watch and it left enough time to pootle back up to Gard du Nord to catch the home bound train. I didn't catch the metro all day not because I'm incredibly hardcore (well, I am - all day in heels!) but because I saw so much more of the city than usual and would suggest doing the same to get the most absorption out of your day.

Normally I travel Economy on Eurostar, mainly because I'm a cheapskate, but was on this occasion treated to Leisure Select which is between Economy and Business. The main difference is that you are greeted by some very charming staff, have a stack of magazines and newspapers to rummage through, bigger seats and served either breakfast, lunch or dinner with wine and champagne.

Whilst on the subject of the food, and remembering that we are on the Eurostar not the Orient Express, the breakfast served in the morning was perfectly adequate. I chose a herb omelette, smoked salmon and sauteed potatoes which was served alongside bread, pastries, yogurt and juice. As we all know, the best thing about any "transport cuisine" is that it is a welcome distraction from your travel time.

Dinner was less successful and my chicken supreme and sweet potato mash had suffered the microwave zap a bit. Pierre Hermé would have used the Eurostar chocolate macaron as a doorstop and the whole, unforkable hazelnuts in the salad were a hilarious choice to serve on a moving train. However, the chocolate served with coffee was Dolfin and the champers and wine were not bad at all. It does seem that the on board branded products are carefully and well chosen.

As fatigue set in on the return journey, I was appreciative of the quieter carriage and the comfier seats. The extra cost depends on the time of your journey, varying from £13-£60 difference, one-way from London to Paris. I would say that the hot food is not worth the money but the rest of the service is. I definitely arrived more relaxed than in Economy and would opt for Leisure Select again especially if I'm savvy with the cost difference and timings.

I visited Paris this time courtesy of Eurostar who are promoting its Little Break, Big Difference campaign which start at £59 return. All of my expenditure whilst in Paris was out of my own little pockets. Humongous Parisian cheek kisses to Sarah at We are Social for organising my ticket, a little break was exactly what I needed and recommend it to everyone. There are quite a few other destinations I now have my eye (and stomach) on so watch this space.

Unusual places to eat

Underground and pop up restaurants are, er, popping up everywhere and it is great that one can experience food outside of the traditional restaurant format.

Below are some of the weird and wonderful venues that I would love to experience. Some I would personally not like to visit, but would make for an interesting venue for some, include the Modern Toilet restaurant in which food is served in yes, a loo or a restaurant that is entirely staffed by robots can be seen in full along with some others on the Simon Seeks Blog.

The Sky Restaurant in Belgium is for those happy with heights as it is dangled from a cane in the sky.

The Fortezza Medicea Jail restaurant in Italy employs murderers and thieves. This is one place I wouldn't complain if the pasta was overcooked.

Beautiful Tree House Restaurant in New Zealand.

My good friend has been here and thoroughly recommends dining under the stars in a cave thought to be between 120,000 and 180,000 years old. Perfect for the next time you are passing Mombasa.

Images via Simon Seeks, apart from the Ali Barbour's cave restaurant via DianiBeach