SHOPPING: Man aprons from Stanley & Sons

Mr Graphic Foodie is seriously getting into his baking after our class at The Lighthouse Bakery. He wouldn't be seen dead in my frilly cupcake apron plus it wouldn't cover much of him either so I'm thinking he may like one of these lovely, handmade "man aprons" from US based Stanley & Sons. The leather and stud details are are really nice touch. They are a little pricey at $118 with leather details costing an extra $10 but would make a great gift. Shipping the the UK is $25.

BRIGHTON FOOD FESTIVAL: Best of Brighton Live Food Show and Lunch

The format behind the Best of Brighton Live Food Show is genius. A formal sit down lunch with the courses being cooked (and demonstrated) by a selection of Brighton's best restaurants creates an incredibly exciting and diverse dining experience.

We've all been to live food shows in white marquees with Madonna microphoned chefs but this was a far more intimate environment (at the very nice Radisson Blu dining rooms, formerly the Royal York) to really enjoy talking and eating food. As we sat down to enjoy the food after the demonstrations, we were talked through the wines selected and provided by the formidable Henry Butler of Butlers Wine Cellar. For all the stuffy wine demonstrations and talks you may have been to, you will never have seen one executed the way Henry does them. All I can say is see him in action and outfits at the brilliant

First up was the incredible image at the top of the page was the Twice Baked Nut Knoll Ash Goats Cheese Souffle with Asparagus Creme and Olive "Soil" by Terre a Terre chef Dino Pavledis. It's a take on their famous Elephant and Rocket Oil Twice Baked Soufflé which is in their cookbook with a few tweaks and twists (as they like to do). The soufflé is encased in layers of filo pastry sprinkled with nuts and rosemary. The hollow in the top is filled with asparagus spears and rocket leaves.

It has to be said that this dish has the most plate presence of any I have ever eaten. Once this beast was tackled flat on the plate, it was evident that the flavours were just as important as the visual impact, the lemon droplets lifting the whole dish. This is seriously sexy vegetarian food and has inspired me to get to grips with the two page recipe in the book. Deconstructed in the chef's demonstration, it doesn't look as scary. Maybe.

The wine matched for this dish was the Plumpton Estate Rose, 2009 made locally by students of Plumpton College which was light and refreshing.

Next up was Sam Metcalfe from Sam's of Sevendials and Sam's of Brighton. I like Sam's ethos to food. No fuss, simple and all about the eating. This Crab and Herb Ravioli served with foraged Wild Garlic and Crab Bisque was a delight. Although I make my own pasta all the time, this demonstration was the most inspirational for me and most useful. He popped in a quarter ratio of finely ground semolina to type 00 flour to create his pasta dough which I have never done but will try next time. Also to try would be his technique for kneading the dough through the pasta machine on the widest setting which seemed to give great consistency. I have also never prepared crab before so that was really useful to get all the tips for crustacean wrestling. The filling for the ravioli was a super light mixture of prepared crab meat and salmon mousse with plenty of herbs. I thought the wild garlic worked perfectly with the flavours without overpowering. Really nice.

I love sherry so was pleased as punch to see that Henry had chosen the chilled, crisp Bodegas Argueso Manzanilla to go with this. We really ought to be drinking more sherry with food.

Next up was a Trio of Pork by Andy McKenzie of Drakes. This had the drool factor. Laden with butter in every part, and delicious for it, this would be a doable dinner party dish at home. All that's needed is a few tricks with the meat prep and the ingredients here speak for themselves. A fork-soft pig cheek, crisp, chewy confit belly and smoky pancetta wrapped loin. A plate of porky goodness for sure with a lovely white bean puree, savoy and creamed potato. Most surprising was the addition of cinnamon which I don't think I would ever think to put with pork but it is an inspired companion for it.

A bio dynamic Champalou Vouvray Sec was chosen for this dish which had bags of personality and although I don't think it would be for everyone, I really liked it.

What I needed next was a bit of a lie down but instead we were shown a cocktail demonstration by Myles Cunliffe who showed us how to make his signature Myzo cocktail, with vanilla vodka, elderflower cordial, lemon juice and fresh chili. This was right up my street and the post dinner pick me up I needed.

Refreshed, we watched Raymond Blanc trained Julien Plumart from by beloved Cocoa Patisserie create the best tarte tatin I have ever eaten as well as his recipe for boozy chocolate truffles. Served with salted caramel icecream and a teeny macaroon, this was heaven and, convinced I would have gone to hell had I left even a scrap on my plate, I polished off the lot. The sweetie even wrapped one up for me to take home to Mr Graphic Foodie as this is one of his favourite desserts.

Tickets to this event were a measly £45 when you take into account the four courses, matched wines, cocktails and other refreshments plus all the demonstrations. Dining in any of these restaurants for a more modest meal would probably cost you more.

Worth mentioning is that events like these happen due to people involved donating their time (and sometimes produce in the case of Butlers Wines) for free. It's a labour of love to raise the profile of Brighton food scene and something I really appreciate.

Sussex Gourmet Bus Tour

It was a case of the morning after the night before. The night before in question was the Sussex Beer Festival where, to my surprise, I discovered that I am a porter drinker. I managed to work my way through the wonderful porters and beers made by local micro brewery Kissingate, which was a new discovery for me. Check them out if you can. I enjoyed them so much I ending up wandering home with a punnet of chips for company. Classy.

Anyway, fuggy headed, I boarded the beautiful old Routemaster waiting for us on Brighton seafront for an adventure across Sussex, dropping us off at various food producers in the area for tastings and to see how they create their fantastic products.

Each talked in depth about their processes and history which was so fascinating I could write individual posts for each. Instead, I will leave you with details of all of our stops and a small interesting tidbit from each.

First stop was Cocoaloco in West Grinstead who make the most glorious organic chocolates. After donning very fetching blue hair nets, we were told why American chocolate tastes so odd. Apparently it is because the distance the cocoa had to travel meant that the oils in it used to go rancid. The Americans got used to this taste and that is why the (mainstream brand) chocolate there is made to taste, to our palettes, pants. The chocolate at Cocoaloco is thankfully far from pants and I left clutching a huge jar of their dark chocolate chunks with ginger.

Next on the stop was a much needed visit to a much loved brewery, Dark Star in Partridge Green. The first thing they did was give us each a pint of either their Hophead or Festival which sorted me out! Here's an interesting fact; the water used during commercial brewing has often gone through a process called Burtonisation. Why? Burton on Trent was said to be the best place to brew beer because of the local water. Upon analysis, the water was found to have high levels of calcium sulphate in it, giving Burton beers their superior taste. So sulphate is added to the water during brewing and this is called Burtonisation, a process used at the Dark Star!

Also what I like about Dark Star that maybe some of the other real ale breweries could do with taking on board, is their modern approach to marketing. With it they are actively appealing to the younger generation of real ale drinker, which can only be a good thing for the future. Useful to know you can turn up to the brewery and purchase beer direct. I bought some of their Espresso black beer which is brewed with their own specially blended coffee.

Now full of chocolate and beer, we headed to The Talbot Inn at Cuckfield for a rather nice 2 course lunch. We had a beautiful starter of open ravioli with mackerel, nettle foam and a flavour punch tomato pearl which really made the dish.

Main was succulent local lamb with watercress puree, kale and fondant potato. Lovely. I made a mental note to return for dinner sometime soon.

After our pit-stop lunch we headed to the Sussex High Weald Dairy and saw one of their best sellers, the Ashdown Foresters, in progress. This is an unpressed cheese which gets its spaceship shape from the colanders the whey drains through. Although they do produce cheese from cows, sheep and goats, sheep's cheese is preferred as it has 20% fat as opposed to just 10% found in cow and goat milk. So it requires less milk to make the same amount of cheese. I'm a big fan already of this dairy, my favourites being the Sussex Slipcote and the squeak-tastic Halloumi.

Last stop was a visit and tasting at the fantastic award-winning Ridgeview Estate. The chalky soil of the South Downs (where the estate is situated) is said to be similar to that of the Champagne region, so that's why their sparkling wines are so good. I discovered last year that when it comes to sparkling wines, I'm a Blanc de Blanc fan, which is why I loved Ridgeview's Grosvenor 2007 the best from the tasting. Sadly this had long sold out and we were treated to a bottle from the vinyard's personal stash but I'd look out for the 2008 batch due out soon.

Also, I really liked the collection of Champagne glasses from the decades they had displayed on the side (click to enlarge).

It really makes you very proud to see all of these fantastic, hard grafting people making these exceptional products so close to us using, in many cases, produce from our own land. Raising the demand for their products will help keep them in business and even get their products into the big boy supermarkets. Selected Sainsbury's and Waitrose stores stock some of the High Weald Dairy cheeses and four local Co-ops sell the entire range. Waitrose sell Ridgeview wines. Of course many of our local independent stores and pubs have always, and continue to, stock these super products.

Part of this Spring's Brighton Food Festival, this tour was a fast sell out with just 40 or so spaces. Hopefully this is something that will become more frequent throughout the year as it was a resounding success. At just £40 for the tour, including the 2 course lunch at The Talbot, it was also a total bargain. I had such a good time and so did everyone else it seemed, the atmosphere on return journey (probably fulled by a tipple or three!) was joyous and lively as we chugged back to Brighton.

Thanks to all of the producers for their time to show us around and the very generous tastings. Also thanks the organisers of this tour - let's have more of this please!

Next up in my Brighton Festival series, I'll show you the incredible meal demonstrated and served by some of Brighton's best restaurants in the Best of Brighton Live Food Show. Wait 'til you see the dish that Terre a Terre created!

Easter egg round up 2011

I love the chocolate creations that emerge around Easter. Here are some of my favourite designs from this year.

The Glam Egg (Limited edition) is quite something, coated in white chocolate "velvet". The six hand painted caramel eggs are in flavours such as Yorkshire Rhubarb, Cornish Sea Salt and Kentish Apple and Pear. There are a further six caramel eggs hidden in the base of the main egg. I actually expected this to be more than £35.00 from Demarquette.

I've always liked the blue packaging from Rococo Chocolates and this hand painted egg certainly has the wow factor. Hand Painted Egg No. 3 with Leaping Hare Design, £22.50.

For the more obscure of you how about an Easter fish £9.99? Made in Sussex by the wonderful Cocoa Loco whose organic chocolate factory, well, big room, I went to visit last weekend.

Feel deflated after breaking a chocolate egg open to find nowt but air? How about this Russian doll inspired egg from Fortum & Mason £85.00 that goes on and on and on. Each egg is made with a different cocoa percentage.

One for the connoisseurs would be this striking Gianduja Almond Egg from Willam Curley, £30.00.

I like the idea behind this Cocoa Pod "egg" filled with various Easter treats. £19.95 from Chococo.

Dairy free? Then this simple, classic egg from Moo Free would be ideal. I've tried it and it doesn't taste half bad either. A pocket friendly £3.99.

All images form the respective websites.

BOOK REVIEW: The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches by Susan Russo

When discussing deepest, darkest, dirty food confessions with friends one day, the one that shocked everyone the most was the admission (not mine I may add) of a fondness for Super Noodles between two slices of thick white supermarket bread. (You know who you are "S".)

This then opened the gates for other filling confessions, peanut butter and crisps, Marmite and strawberry jam (really!), Spam and chips...I really can't think of an item of food so personal to an individual. I mean sandwiches can be as famous as the people they are linked with. Take Elvis and his beloved peanut butter, bacon and banana sandwich, Paddington Bear and marmalade sarnies, Friends character Joey and his baloney sandwich.

London restaurant opening have even the sandwich as an acceptable format for future-classic desserts. A blogger favourite du jour is Spuntino's take on an ice cream peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Sandwich, sarnie, sanga, sammich and er, butty. Whatever you want to call them, everyone loves them. The idea of a "cookbook" for sandwiches does seem like a load of old baloney at first but The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches is so much more than that. Yes it does list methods and ingredients (in US cups - a cup of Baked Beans, seriously!) but the annotations, origins and trivia for each one is fascinating.

The breakfast sandwich was born from a "crazy" idea by McDonalds franchisee Herb Patterson in 1972. The club sandwich debuted in 1894 at a gentleman's club called the Saratoga Club House in New York. The Croque-Monsieur was concocted as French workers left their ham and cheese sandwiches near hot radiators and voila! a new sandwich was born (apparently). I had no idea that the Hamburger was introduced to America by German immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century and the Hoagie is the the Official Sandwich of Philadelphia.

As this is an American book, it predominantly features American (and the infiltration of influence by immigrants) but makes for a fascinating read into the sandwich culture of the US. The Lobster roll, Dagwood, Hero, Hoagie, Grinder, Po'boy, Ruben a few of many. However, delights from the rest of the world are also featured. The Croque-Monseiur, Muffulatta (a Sicilian hollowed out whole loaf filled with layers of salami, mortadella, cheese and olives), the BLT, Falafel Pitas and the chip butty are in there too.

You'll even find out what the hell a Fluffernutter is (and no it's not that).

A really interesting read between two covers.

The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches by Susan Russo is published by Quirk Books and costs £11.99.

Many thanks to The Publishers Group for this copy to review.