RECIPE: Loaded polenta

Polenta seems to puzzle a lot of people. I serve it a lot and a few friends have mentioned that they have never heard of it or known what to do with it. Essentially it's a vehicle for a dish, no different to rice or pasta, and the more you put in, the more you get out. Served "wet", it's particularly good with slow cooked meat sauces like my mum's one here or something like an oxtail and wine stew. You can slice and grill it too, which is better if you are serving it as a side to a dish. And I just love it in cakes. A store cupboard hero for sure.

This is a speedy mid-week way of serving polenta, when hours cooking down a thick sauce is not possible. I like to call it fully loaded polenta and you can adapt it to suit what you have in the fridge - a fantastic end of week clear out recipe!

I really like "proper" polenta. The one you stir and stir until you arm drops off. The texture and toasted taste is better. But if time is tight then an instant polenta is fine, I like Valsugana (from Waitrose) or Carluccios brand. (The ready made block of polenta is never, ever, NEVER fine though.)

Serves 3-4

200g instant polenta
Half a 400g can of canellini beans (or borlotti, pinto, haricot, black eye), drained
Half an onion, finely sliced
100g mushrooms (any kind), sliced

1 green pepper, sliced
A good length of chorizo (about 70g) or 2 cooked spicy sausages, sliced
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
Parmesan or pecorino cheese (even cubes of mozzarella)

Preheat the grill to hot.

Make the polenta as per the packet instructions. Generally it should be to add 200g it to 900ml of boiling salted water, stirring continuously for 7 minutes.  Roughly before the last minute of cooking, add the drained beans and stir through.

Pour into an oven proof dish greased with a little olive oil and even out. You want it a few centimeters thick.

Fry the sliced onion, green pepper and mushrooms in olive oil until they are soft and beginning to brown, season with salt. Pour over the polenta, oil and all. Arrange the chopped tomatoes and sliced chorizo or sausage over the polenta as well. Finally, shave over plenty of parmesan.

Place under a hot grill until the tomatoes have softened and the chorizo is sizzling.

Remove from the grill and dot over a few spoonfuls of pesto.

REVIEW: Yum Yum Ninja, Brighton

I was positively thrilled to hear about the opening of the new Pan Asian venture by the people behind two very fine Brighton restaurants, Riddle & Finns and Due South (the latter now sadly closed). Known for the high quality of their food, I expected nothing less of their latest venture and luckily it did not disappoint me. Which is great, as had I not been meeting a group of friends, I would have turned right back round again when I was met at the entrance by this enormous Teneriefe-inspired lightbox menu. Worst still, as I still had my jaw dropped, some "oi oi" type came forward with a swagger and clip board. Worringly, I thought he was going to offer me a free vodka jelly shot. Now I get why they feel the need to capture punters like this. The restaurant is in The Lanes, which are a warren to the visitor (and even locals) at the best of times, and the entrance, being set back, is very easy to miss. The restaurants previously on site have been more miss than hit and the location may somewhat be responsible, but seriously, there has got to be a better solution that this.

Led up a narrow staircase from the outside to the first floor cocktail bar, things didn't look much better. Although the lantern dripped courtyard was charming, the bar fit-out was a bit of an MDF effort, channelling Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen circa 1990s Changing Rooms, not helped by the colour copier cocktail menus and tacky laminated address cards. As the place is "themed" it is a tricky beast to get right, and it almost was, but the finish of the place just missed the mark. Cocktails themselves seemed quite enticing, especially the fusion collection. Shame we didn't get to try any as we couldn't get served in time before dinner.

The main restaurant downstairs is far better with a part open kitchen and the three private dining rooms are quite well furnished and cosy, although not that private with rice paper divides.

Anyway, the food menu (this one properly printed) is rather exciting. This is small-plate style which is great for tasting but potentially painful on the wallet. As a large group of seven though, it can work out quite well padded out with rice. Individually, most dishes are actually well priced at £3-£10 although some items like the Lobster or Black Cod are far pricier at £29 each.

Almost everything we ordered was well presented and excellent, even promoting a second order on a few items. Dishes which shone were the Bo Ssam House Special Beef with Kimichi Puree & Lettuce, which fell apart in tender pieces of tasty gorgeousness. You really needed the lettuce "wrapping" to hold the meat together long enough to pop in your mouth. And being a pickle fan, I really liked the sharp tang the kimichi gave.

The Roast Duck Leg with Pancakes and Plum Sauce is always a crowd pleaser and the Tori Kara-age Japanese-style Fried Chicken, was finger lickin' good indeed. From the sea were soft, succulent Szechuan Tiger Prawns, and proababy one of the few times I have not been disappointed with squid - this was the best I have ever eaten. The vegetable dishes didn't play second fiddle, particularly the rich parcel of Sake and Soy baked mushrooms.

We were also enticed by the Dim Sum menu and tried the Pork, Chive and Water chestnut buns, the Prawn & Minced Pork Sui Mai and some Vegetarian Gyoza. I'm not much of a Dim Sum lover, these were enjoyable, light and well made and although they didn't knock my socks off personally, I'm sure if you were a fan you wouldn't be disappointed.

The selection of desserts we tried were nothing to write home about although there is something entertaining about watching people try to eat too-big-for-one-go wontons with hot molten chocolate inside.

Large groups of 8-12 can also choose to order Slow Roast Pork or Beef at £100/£130 with a selection of sides which is pretty good value and if the meat dishes we tried are a taster of this, then this would be a real hit.

Wine prices were actually a little on the cheeky side, with very few reasonably priced reds (one of which was unavailable on the night). Better selection and price variety on the whites but still quite an enthuiastic mark up. You'd be better off sticking to Sake and beer.

On the whole though, I think Yum Yum Ninja is a must visit in the city. I could easily return a number of times to polish off the whole menu. We didn't touch the Chargrilled Bincho Sticks or Soups that I want to try and apparently the Baked Puff Dim Sum are really something. This place verges just about on the right side of cool and despite the out of the way location and questionable interior, I think it's a place that will do well if the food variety and quality bar they have set stays firmly put.
15-18 Meeting House Lane, Brighton, BN1 1HB

LUNCH REVIEW: Iydea, Brighton

Well here I am back at work after a year "off" (laughs manically) and one of the best things about being at work is the potential for a blissfully uninterrupted lunch. As there are so many lunching options in Brighton and plenty of choice for take away, I'll be posting an "al desko" series of reviews for those who lunch on the go in the city.

I'm kicking off the series with one of my favourites, Iydea (Lydia, Idea, Lydea, Ikea - stupid name though, I always fail to get it right). Anyway, name irritation aside, this is an extremely popular lunchtime spot in Brighton, winning plenty of local and national awards. Everything is vegetarian or vegan and the food is fresh, really tasty and above all, hearty. Even the regular sized meals (you can opt for a large option) is enough to make me want to crawl under my desk for a post lunch snooze. In a good way.

The concept here is simple. Choose a main meal from a daily changing selection (ie. Tofu Spanakopita, Sweet Potato, Spinach & Tofu Massaman, Vegetarian Lasagna, Enchiladas, Burgers, Flans...) add 2 vegetable sides (Carrot in Lemon & Chive, Pesto Mash Green Beans with Almond & Dill...) or salads (Middle eastern jumbo cous cous, Beet, Chilli & Ginger Slaw...) and finally, two toppings (Tzaiki, Hummous, Chutneys, Mixed Sprouts...).

People must return here again and again as there is always plenty of choice from the heaving display and beats the same old, same old from the local sandwich shop.

I suppose the only issue with so many sides is that everything is very flavoursome, seasoned and spiced that if you are a bit of a food magpie you could get one heck of a confused plate of food, mainly evident in the deep takeaway boxes as you have to dig away with your fork for the main component.

I normally choose something contained like an enchilada, pie or this time a Spinach & Sweetcorn Jambalaya filled Roti so I can "barrier" the main bit from all the sides. The roti had a great hit of fire and spice, and wasn't too heavy with the sweetcorn and spinach. The Coronation Chickpea Salad and Courgette Jumbo Pearl Cous Cous made delicious and interestingly textured sides. My favourite part was the homemade Beetroot Chutney though, sweet and perfectly sharp for a pickle head like me.

Despite it always busy at lunch, the army of staff manning the counter ensure you are seen to fast. You have got the option of eating in but I always choose to take out and eat al desko. Meals range from £4.70 to £7.70, although I've yet to spend more than £5 for a lunch so far, and for what you get, is fantastic value.

Everything feels very fresh and healthy and with so many places to choose from to lunch locally, its success is clearly deserved. It's a hard one to beat.
17 Kensington Gardens
North Laine
Brighton BN1 4AL

DESIGN: Lotta Nieminen

Wonderful brand identity illustrations for Menigo, a Swedish wholesale food supplier, from the incredibly talented Lotta Nieminen.

Image from