Pretty good eating week this week, and I think I am getting my cooking mojo back after a bit of a drought.

Monday always seems a soup day to me, maybe neutralising the excesses of the weekend!

George was on the menu on Tuesday, but we let him go, taking him to dinner at the Residence pop-up in Brighton. And yes George you do rock but if you deface my precious chalk board again, there'll be trouble!!

Love this paprika pork recipe, another staple from my little BBC Good Food book that I have for mid-week inspiration. So different to what I normally cook and brilliant if you have a little piece of pork fillet to use.

I cooked the first recipe from my gorgeous Geometry of Pasta book on Thursday. Never having cooked pasta with whiskey I was really keen to give it a go. I'll post up the results in my review soon, just have to give another recipe a go first, sticking to my 2 recipe review rule. I must say I did love the Radiatori (little radiators) shaped pasta, which hugged the sauce beautifully.

The sad face was for Mr. Graphic Foodie who was away for the weekend doing the 3 peaks challenge for the second time. I did send him off with a pile of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's rum and orange flapjacks to power him through though! Quite possibly the best flapjack recipe in the world (and the most energy packed!)

SHOPPING: Printed card cake stand

I adore this kitsch printed card cake stand from Heal's. Its flat-pack nature would make it perfect for an afternoon picnic in the park.

Truly Scrumptious Printed Cake Stand, £10 from Heal's


Pretty darn good eating week this week actually, apart from an epic quail fail.

After a heavy week of eating in Italy, soup, just simple ol' soup, was very much needed on our return.

I really love this "blackened" fish recipe that has become a house staple. It was actually the recipe that helped me to start eating fish, I used to hate it before - crazy! Perfect with a hot sweetcorn salsa. I'll pop the recipe up at some point.

Friday we went to Residence pop-up restaurant and had a fantastic meal. Read my write up here. This was the rather impressive looking baba I had for dessert.

Suffering a bit of a hangover after the drinking session post-Residence (WHY do I do it to myself?) I decided to go and cook quail with pomegranate from the fantastic Eagle cookbook. Unfortunately this was the first duff recipe from my much-loved copy (or it could have been my hangover or the quality of the quail). I really didn't enjoy it and was really miffed about spending the time in the kitchen making it when I could have been feeling sorry for myself on the sofa!

The fantastic sausages I brought back from Italy were served up British-style on Sunday, to finish on a high note. Quail-schmail.

DESIGN: Innocent smoothie

Loving the packaging for this new Buy One Get One Bee smoothie from Innocent with a little pack of bee-attracting flower seeds. The point being to help reduce the disappearance of bees in the UK in partnership with the National Trust.

Design-wise, Innocent have always hit the nail on the head with lovely graphics and stellar copy writing, giving them a unique voice which other brands try to imitate with far less success.

A brand that makes you smile is a very special brand indeed. I'm off to plant my bee seeds!

BRIGHTON EVENT OFFER (Well Hove actually): Hove Champagne Festival, 4th and 5th June

The first consumer festival dedicated to champagne is coming to Hove Lawns! Over 50 varieties of fizzy goodness will be available to buy and sample. And I don't know about you, but I could sure do with a bit of a lesson in champagne so I will also be making the most of the tutored sessions too.

Also present will be local food heavyweights, Riddle & Finns, Sevendials restaurant and (one of my favourires at the moment), Sam's of Brighton, to provide us with something decadent to soak up the champagne.

Standard entry is £12 including a commemorative champagne flute, festival programme, two tasting tickets, and a tutored tasting session (booking required). Tickets are also available for the VIP enclosure for £35, and include fast track entry, a champagne welcome drink in the VIP enclosure, canapés throughout the day, a commemorative festival programme, champagne flute, four tasting tickets and a guaranteed session in the tasting theatre.

Graphic Foodie readers can get £3 off all standard and VIP tickets by quoting the code FOODIE on www.hovechampagnefestival.com

If the sun shines, Hove Lawns, right next to the seafront and surrounded by Regency buildings, will be an ideal place to quaff a glass or six. See you there!

4th - 5th June 2010
Hove Lawns

The De Cecco Factory, Fara San Martino, Italy

See this water? That ends up in your De Cecco Pasta that does. No wonder their predominant brand colour is blue looking at the sapphire sparkle of the mountain water (their own exclusive source, no less).

My family come from the other side of the mountain range where the De Cecco factory nestles in the small town of Fara San Martino, so I decided to pay it a little visit. Sadly the factory was closed (siesta!), but I was mainly looking to visit the factory shop which sells every single shape produced by the company, which run into the hundreds with some weird, wonderful and rare ones to boot that I wanted to share with you.

Hopefully I can get back later in the year for a real snoop around but the surroundings were beautiful, full of fig and olive trees and streams of brain chilling spring water. This just confirmed my love of a really great brand of pasta. (Ps. I'm not affiliated with this brand in any way, I just love it and I'm a pasta geek.)

DINNER DIARY: Week 17 (Italy)

No blackboard this week as most of my eating was done back in Italy, a quick visit back to sort my epic wedding menu (WAY too important to do any other way than face to face.) Along with the general anxiety of planning, the fact that noone had told me the bell tower of the church I had booked had become unstable due to the earthquakes, thus rendering it closed, required me to do a lot of much needed stress eating. At least I was in the right place to do this in.

I love eating patterns in Italy. Breakfast is a mere milky coffee and biscuit or brioche, preparing you for pranzo, essentially lunch with bells and whistles. Pranzo in our house consisted of a pasta primo and meat secondo on most days. I won't write everything we ate down as it would take an hour to read, but highlights were some fantastic wild spinach, picked that morning from the mountains and simply dressed peasant style and a hearty thick pasta ravioli (thick enough to disgust any Michelin starred chef but that's how it's made here) filled with local goat ricotta. Ricotta is typically made with cow or sheep milk but I adore this strong goat version, a world apart in taste and texture to the sloppy ricotta in the supermarkets.

My cousins' mum used to be the village baker and has biceps that would make heavyweight boxers envious. She always brings me this flat cake, full of juicy raisins and roasted almonds. Looks like biscotti but it is infact very soft and chewy. Amazing:

But I suppose what your really asking is what the hell is that in the first picture? Well it is a savoury "pie" from Naples, brought to the house by a visiting Neapolitan lady as a belated Easter gift. Encasing whole eggs like this is a common Italian Easter tradition. In our region for Easter we bake an egg in a similar way but it is encased in the centre of a large flat bread in the shape of a woman (given to little girls) and horses (for little boys). This pie had chopped smoked pancetta and was heavily peppered. These types of pies were traditionally baked to be taken on Easter Monday picnics, as they really are a whole meal in themselves.

Goodies brought back this time were 4kg's of amazing sausages from the local butcher in the village. These are dropped into bubbling tomato pasta sauces to flavour them, and then the sausages are eaten after as a secondo. Thety are also good grilled or oven roasted and served with salad and potatoes roasted with rosemary. Although very coarse, the sausages are pure meat and spicing. My family have invested in an industrial vacuum packer so we can bring this stuff back!

One cheese I've never seen in the UK is the Caciocavallo, a fantastic sheep milk cheese. Shepherds used to make cheese in the hills on the move when relocating the sheep to higher or lower ground for the winter or summer. The unusual shape is due to the way the cheese is hung, traditionally shepherds would string them over horseback to carry down to the villages for sale. Cacio is an old dialect word for formaggio, meaning cheese and cavallo means horse. This caciocavallo is made in the next village to us and is the best money can buy.

REVIEW: Tom's Terrace, Somerset House, London

I was rather lucky to be invited along to sample the menu from Tom's Terrace, which has replaced the River Terrace Café with a rather impressive looking, red lit canopy. This is actually al-fresco dining with heaters to shelter us from the British "summer". In my opinion, food tastes better outdoors so I'm all for open-air dining, it's just that when it is cold, as it was when I was there, it's not too much fun. I really hope the temperature rises as the space would be a really lovely way to spend a warm, balmy evening with friends, overlooking the Thames.

We met Tom Aikens who introduced the idea of the restaurant and also regaled us with his epic marathon running tales and shock-love of Peperami. He seems a really nice chap actually, definitely a chef with a hands-on passion for what he does. He will be manning the open-air kitchen here 2 days a week, and tending to his other restaurants for the rest.

The restaurant menu is short and informal, possibly reflecting the limitations of an open-air kitchen, with 6 starters, 4 mains and 7 desserts, with a separate menu for the lounge area. After a lovely board of silky fois gras parfait, meats, chutneys and toasted brioche (£22) from the lounge menu, I chose the Tartine of Red Onion and Aubergine Compote.

The tartine (open sandwich to you and me) was perfectly pleasant although a titch over priced at £12.50. I do have to highlight my pet peeve with slate being used as plates as this is what happens:

Anyway, I'll expand on my Bring Plates Back to Restaurants campaign at later date.

A sample of the Grilled Steak Sandwich followed (£17.50 for the full size version), which I would have been quite happy ordering. A few dishes seemed to be a little repetative, for example if you ordered the tartine and then the sandwich the core ingredients are the identical. The steak here was delicious though.

My main of Grilled Paillard of Chicken (£16.50) was a fitting choice for the venue; light, summery, colourful, Mediterranean. Chicken flattened and grilled this way is a sure fire winner. Sadly a fuse went in the kitchen scuppering the sampling of Truffle Chips which sounded divine.

The desserts all sounded great, and due to indecision (and greed) I ordered both the Vanilla Pannacotta and the Lemon Curd and Blueberry Pavlova (both £8.00). The pavlova sure looked the part, stacked, shining and glorious. However, the meringue was rather dry and missing a lovely chewy centre. I adore lemon curd, frequently eating it out of the jar with a spoon and, as this was clearly represented on the menu, I was disappointed to not have tasted more of it in the dish.

The Vanilla pannacotta, broken up with raspberries and raspberry jelly, would be a good choice for those with a sweet tooth and is a fun dessert for summer. But the highlight of the evening was the reawakening of the fryers, which finally allowed us a taste of the truffle chips (£6.50).

Although a tad unorthodox with dessert, these were so good I'd eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, whenever. These proper fat chips, triple cooked I believe, were crunchy and fragrant and I was as happy as a truffle pig in mud with them. A great choice if you opt for the steak sandwich.

Tom's Terrace will be open for 22 weeks until the end of August, making full use of the summer. Oh, and Tom will be staring his own blog in 6 weeks, so really looking forward to that as he's saved my bacon (literally) on Twitter once before with a rather successful last minute pork belly recipe.

I was invited to review as a guest of Tom's Terrace.

REVIEW: Residence Pop-up Restaurant, Brighton

Having dined a few days earlier at celebrated chef, Tom Aikens' new Terrace restaurant, it was an interesting contrast to be cooked for by some up-and-coming culinary stars. The Residence pop-up restaurant temporarily takes over City College's Gallery restaurant (where the college's students learn their craft by cooking for paying customers) as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. The unusual twist with this pop-up, as well as using student chefs and waiting staff, is that at every lunch and dinner service, a different artist in residence will create a piece of artwork while you dine. As a customer you may even make it into one of the pieces, one table of diners a few days ago were unknowingly depicted naked from the waist down! As they are produced, artworks will be displayed in the restaurant and will be auctioned off at the end with proceeds going to Age Concern.

I had previously attended a tasting session of the proposed menu a fortnight before and to be honest some of the dishes required a bit of work. On returning for dinner, I wasn't really prepared for 1. the transformation of the space and 2. the finished dishes and their quality. I'd go so far as to say I was amazed actually.

At £12.50 for lunch and £16.50 for a 3 course dinner of this caliber, it is a total, utter steal. The menu is nothing innovative, remaining quite classic with a French influence. I chose to book dinner as the artist in residence for the session was the very talented illustrator, Will Scobie.

Appetites were whetted with Pear Bellini's (£4) which were glugged with no complaints. My potted Hot-Smoked Salmon served with Pickled Cucumber was divine. My only issue was the lack of bread or anything to spread the salmon on but no matter, this was the nicest salmon dish I have had in ages. The pickled cucumber was a classic and ideal accompaniment to the soft, creamy salmon.

Mr Graphic Foodie chose the Ham Hock Terrine, Rabbit Rillettes, Piccalilli & Cornichons, again this was executed beautifully, chunky succulent meats with fantastic flavours throughout.

The one dish that stood out for me at the tasting was the pan fried Smoked Pork Loin, Sage Butter, Sauté potatoes & Leeks. The smoked pork (local I believe) packed a serious flavour punch. I do regret having come home from the tasting raving about this dish as Mr. GF beat me to ordering it. As I'm one of those people that never orders the same thing as my dining companion (what is with that?), I begrudgingly chose the Confit Duck, Dauphinoise Potatoes, Red Cabbage & Red Wine Jus. I was irritated further as the smoked pork dish arrived beautifully cooked and the minor niggles with the dish from the tasting (too much butter and slightly overdone) were ironed out completely.

My little sulk was trivial as Confit Duck is actually one of my favourie dishes to order and I have sampled as many shockers as delicious versions in my time. This one, I can happily say, was one of the best yet. The dish as a whole was perfect. Salty duck, sweet, crunchy cabbage and creamy potatoes. Lovely.

Both main dishes were well worth the cost of the entire meal alone, and you would easily pay £16.50 for this in one of the high end restaurants in the city and be flipping happy with it too.

It's worth noting that the wine menu had been chosen by Henry from The Butlers Wine Cellar. We opted for the Magpie Estate ‘The Call Bag’ Barossa Valley Mourvedre Grenache. The oaky, smokey red was perfect for the strength of flavours in the main courses. Although not for the faint-hearted, I really love this ballsy wine.

Desserts were a Rum Baba with Chantilly Cream for me and a French Chocolate Cake & Vanilla Crème Fresh for Mr GF. Whilst I enjoyed the baba, I really wanted more rum. An entire pirates share of rum to be more precise. The texture of the sponge was a lot heavier and dryer than I was expecting from a baba, begging to be saturated with syrup and er, rum.

The texture of the chocolate cake was lovely, giving a dense, rich, decadent end to the meal. Desserts were washed down with a nice glass of Kracher Cuvee Auslese 2008.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and made for a very memorable meal. I have even put in a bid for a lovely piece of artwork so I shall be returning with crossed fingers for the auction night of the 22nd! And at the advertised prices, it's hardly worth turning the oven on so I'm sure to be back for another lunch or dinner too.

I appreciate it may seem a bit silly reviewing a temporary pop-up, but there is still time to pay a visit between now and the 23rd May. Go there if you can, it really is worth it. As for the student chefs and staff, there are a few established restaurants out there that could take a few pointers from these guys.

Oh and this was the illustration produced during our dinner:

1st -23rd May 2010
Residence Pop-up Restaurant
Whitecross Street
07825 508 083

REVIEW: Adagio (pizza al taglio) Soho, London

My first ever experience at Pizza Express last week ensured that my size 3's will never cross one of their chain restaurant thresholds again. So it was really nice to be invited up to London try some real pizza at Adagio, or pizza al taglio to be more precise, meaning "by the cut". And it literally is by the cut using special pizza scissors. Here pizza is sold by the gram, a decent slice of pizza being around 150g depending on the topping weight. One of my first food memories was of an al taglio stall and being stuck at Rome train station with my parents aged 4. My dad bought me a slice of pizza with potato and rosemary. Delicious! The long train wait was momentarily forgotten.

I could probably count on one hand how many decent pizzas I've had in the UK but I try all the same! Adagio owner Hagit, although from Israel, will give any Italian mamma a run for their money, feeding everyone up as though it was their last meal, ordering taste samples after taste samples out in the street to entice passing trade. The passion is certainly there but was the pizza?

Pizza al taglio is fast food. To be picked up on passing and eaten on the hoof. So gourmet pizza it is not but it's not supposed to be.

The base of a pizza is king and here they were light as a feather and wonderfully thin, crisp and chewy as any decent base should be.

The dough, made with a special mix of flour containing more protein, is left to rise for 72 hours (the name Adagio actually means "slow"). Apparently there is only a small amount of yeast but look at the bubbles! The dough was quite liquid and I guess would have to practically be poured out. Amazing.

And how refreshing to see just a sensible amount of topping, and cheese - I'm talking about you in particular.

I must have tried everything on the menu; top on my list was the Spicy Salami and, no surprise, the Potato and Rosemary (with truffle oil) which took me back. There is a bit of a divide with the potato pizza but you must try it, it's one of my all-time favorites. The really colourful Courgette and Pepper topping was also really good as was the Sausage and Mushroom.

My least favourite was the one Hagit was most insistent on me trying. Tuna with Artichoke is a classic combination but the tuna had been mixed with mayonnaise and mayonnaise in any quantity does not belong on a pizza any more that pineapple or Peking duck does. It's apparently popular but maybe it's because it looks the most filling, I don't know but it wasn't for me.

All the time I was there, there seemed to be at least one Italian customer being served and if that isn't a recommendation, I don't know what is. One thing I would say is that the Italians were used to this concept and were comfortable but the other customers were sometimes a bit hesitant about how much they were getting for their money. A size guide poster would be all that was needed to show how big 100g or 150g is roughly (topping weights will alter the size a bit).

Other than that I think this is a cracking place for lunch which even sells San Pelligrino Chino drink, a sort of crodino tasting cola - yum!

After all that pizza eating I was given two heaving boxes of pizza to take home. Hagit wanted me to see that the pizza heats up really well at 250 for 3-4 minutes. And amazingly it really did taste as good as it did in the shop! I invited my Italian parents over to help eat it all later that evening and they gave it the thumbs up. Their favorite? Potato of course...

Adagio invited me for review.