REVIEW: The Sussex Yeoman, Brighton



An odd part of me prefers to go somewhere and experience bad food rather than good but not breathtaking food. Because at least you can have a conversation about bad food. What do you think?

The Sussex Yeoman pub is just up from Brighton station so it's perfect for a just-got-here or just-about-to-leave meal. It has a reputation for excellent food, particularly their roasts, and I was super excited that my work had decided to go here for our Christmas do.



I chose the beef stew with dumplings (£11) and a chocolate brownie (£5.75). Both reasonably good but totally forgettable, so excuse the short review. I remember the dumplings being a bit hard and the brownie looking better than it tasted. The succulent bite I had out of my colleagues venison burger was altogether more interesting and those fat chips look phat. Maybe just a bad choice on my part.



The one thing I would say about the Sussex Yeoman is that it sits on that very uncomfortable "it's not a pub and it's not a restaurant" line. The Ginger Pig in Hove is an example of it done well at the higher end and The Hop Poles a good example at the cheaper end. The Sussex Yeoman fit-out is just awkward, but the staff are friendly, the ingredients used are well sourced and the attention to detail there.

It's good.

The Sussex Yeoman
7 Guildford Road
Brighton, BN1 3LU
01273 327 985

The calm before the storm



The table is set, the advance prep is done and stomachs are growling. Hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas day. Happy eating! x



Table finishing touches from The Last Detail

RECIPE: Christmas Tiramisu



Those of you familiar with this blog may remember my little rant on purist tiramisu and how it should not be messed with. Then you saw me backtrack in a display of hypocrisy with an Orange flower version which worked out really well. But you will think I've gone completely crackers with this festive version of the classic Italian dessert.

I'll be serving a classic steamed Christmas pudding on the big day, but with so many people not really fans of it, I think this tiramisu could be an interesting and lighter alternative. The basis of the dessert is the same, just with a few tweaks to introduce those classic Christmas flavours.

Makes a nice big dish for 6-8 people.

RECIPE

2 very fresh egg yolks (Can be omitted if serving to pregnant ladies or if you don't have very fresh eggs.)
3 tbsp caster sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
500g mascarpone cheese
a dash of milk if needed
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground mixed spice
0.5 tsp ground ginger
Grated zest of an orange
300ml cold espresso coffee
50ml freshly squeezed orange juice
4 tbsp brandy
200g savoiardi biscuits (about a packet and a half)
Cocoa powder
Icing sugar
Confectionary silver balls (optional)

In a decent sized bowl, beat the egg, vanilla extract, spices and caster sugar together. Fold in the marscapone and grated orange zest and if you need to loosen the mixture a bit (not too much!) add a splash or two of milk. The mixture should be thick but easy to spread with a little assistance.

In another bowl, combine the coffee, orange juice and brandy. Dip each of the biscuits in the coffee liquid for a second or two and line the base of a dish. Cover with half of the marscapone mixture, then repeat the coffee and biscuit layer but this time make sure the coffee mixture does not saturate the biscuit fully. Top with the remaining marscapone then dust with cocoa powder.

Just before serving, cut out some festive shapes from paper (I simply drew round some holly shaped cookie cutters) and place on top of the tiramisu. Dust with icing sugar. Remove paper shapes and decorate with silver balls.

RECIPE: Squash and Sage Risotto



The last couple of years I have really gotten into squashes and pumpkins. So cheap and so pretty - an ingredient to cook with AND an ornament to decorate the kitchen for a few days? Bargain in my book. I picked up a cute little Carnival Squash that was about 10cm round but any squash will do.

Serves 2

Cube a Carnival Squash (or similar) into 15mm pieces and add to a pan of stock made fresh or with good quality bouillon (roughly 600ml) and cook until tender. Remove the squash and set aside, keeping the stock hot.

Meanwhile fry a finely chopped medium sized onion in a deep, wide pan with 1 tbs olive oil until translucent. Add 6 finely chopped sage leaves and cook for 2 minutes. Add 150g abroio or carnaroli rice to the pan and stir until coated and turning translucent. Add a small glass of white wine, stirring until absorbed. Add your stock one ladle at a time, adding another ladle once absorbed. Before the rice is cooked through add half of the cooked squash, letting it melt into the rice as you add more ladles of stock.

When the rice is cooked through but still has a little bite and the risotto is creamy and loose add the remainder of squash and stir gently to warm through. Season to taste.

Serve immediately with grated Parmesan cheese and pumpkin seeds.

SHOPPING: Cracking nutcrackers

For my family, the Christmas season always marks the beginning of the annual quest to find "the one". Nutcracker that is. They come in practical, beautiful and comical guises. Here are my favorites from my hunting this year. Oh, and if you think you have found "the one", please leave me a comment!

1. A beautiful object, this silver plated walnut shaped nutcracker would be a gorgeous gift that's not just for Christmas. I like the way it contains the shell fragments, because I always send them flying. A bargain at £21.00 from Ancestral Collections.



2. Appeal to your eco sensibilities with a recycled teak and brass nutcracker (although it is shipped from Thailand). £10 including postage from Teaklimey.



3. Ergonomic and a no-nonsense reworking of the classic nutcracker, Crack by Alessi £36.00. The best function is that it spins so there are three different sized scoops.



4. Probably too good (and expensive) to actually use, you can't get more Christmassy than traditional wooden nutcracker figures. A good selection can be found at (surprise, surprise) The Nutcracker Christmas Shop, from £90.00.



5. Looks more at home in the shed, but am told this is incredibly effective at cracking nuts, even those tricky brazils. £22.50 from Robert Welch.



6. Tacky but funny, the Maggi Thatcher nutcracker, £9.95 from Amazon.



But if I were to choose a new cracker to grace my table this Christmas, it has to be this darling silver squirrel. It is actually very good at cracking and appeals to me because I just love those cute little squizzzels! Squirrel Nutcracker, £20.00 from Cox and Cox.



Images from the respective linked sites
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REVIEW: Love Poppy's underground restaurant, Brighton



People are more willing to experiment with where they eat and with the popularity of shows like Come Dine With Me and underground restaurants covered on shows like Jamie's American Road Trip, it feels perfectly acceptable to go around a strangers house and pay for the privilege of them cooking you dinner.

Maybe the attraction is the Russian roulette nature, in that you don't know whether you are going to get the good, the bad or the downright ugly (food, host and location included). It's an exciting, new and growing scene and an experience no restaurant can match.

London has a host of established and successful underground restaurants but the scene is starting to bubble in Brighton. And with the often eccentric nature of Brighton and its inhabitants, I personally couldn't think of a better place.

I don't know what I was expecting of my first underground experience, but it was entirely exceeded. Walking into the personal space of another human, expecting to be served is odd no? Well no. It could have been the beautiful apartment located in one of the Regency Brighton properties off the seafront, but I think it was the warm welcome of the hostess that made me feel quickly at ease. I mean you don't get a peck on the cheek from a restaurant owner as a welcome would you?

Also, in a restaurant you would NEVER talk to the people around you, yet this intimate space was like an open forum. Super. It was intimate and actually quite romantic, but if there are interesting people to engage with then it always makes for a pleasant evening. I like the little details and I appreciated the personal touches like the wax seal and handwritten quotations on the back of the menus.

So what about the food? The menu for the evening (£25 donation per person) was entitled Winter Warmer and by heck we needed warming up.



We started with a Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Parmesan Croutons served in a hollowed out pumpkin. Creamy, gorgeous and homely. Exactly the sort of soup I could happily live on.



Main was Oxtail Slow Braised in Guinesss with Cannellini Beans and Mash. Mr Graphic Foodie loved this so much that his pleading eyes won him a second helping (another bonus versus a traditional restaurant). There really isn't too much to dislike about this dish. Deep, rich, comforting and fulfilling. Not the prettiest of dishes but looks aren't everything in real eating.



We finished with Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Coulis and Ice Cream. Flourless cakes remind me of occasions I have been subjected to dining with certain veggie friends who seemingly have allergies to everything that tastes good. But this was lovely and gooey, whipped off the plate in little time.

Coffee and tea was served in darling vintage cups which I have a hopeless passion for. Love Poppy also does a vintage afternoon tea that will be well worth a look.

As this was the opening night I was impressed. I have cooked for 10-12 people on many an occasion but to cook for paying guests is another matter entirely and takes a brave individual. I probably would crack under pressure but Poppy was as cool as a cucumber, peeking out from behind the screened kitchen for chats.

If you are interested in trying an underground restaurant you will obviously not find information via the regular sources. Exact addresses are divulged after you have booked and drinks are typically BYO. Prices vary but are generally in the £20 - 30 mark.

To book a table at Love Poppy's underground restaurant in Brighton visit Love Poppy's Ning page or blog.

To find an underground restaurant near you visit the Supper Club Fan Group on Ning or search via Facebook or Twitter.

RECIPE: Timballo di pasta



Usually cooked for huge celebrations as a bit of a show off, I first saw a variant of this dish called a timpano, in the charming film, Big Night, about two Italian brothers trying to make it big in the restaurant scene and their passion and integrity for real Italian food. (Watch it if you get a sec, it's good.)


Movie still from Webomatica

Having finished my Italian language course, I invited all my classmates over for a big finale meal. As most of them are English, I thought some really traditional Italian food would be quite fun.

Oh, and if anyone is wondering why an Italian is learning to speak Italian, I seemed to have picked up a very outdated dialect from my family–I'm a second generation imigrant–and have been learning contemporary version of the language. Speaking ye-olde-ee-by-gum Italian attracts much laughter when I visit the big cities in Italy. A waiter in Rome calling over the rest of the staff to hear me speak for entertainment value was the last straw. Anyway...

Timballos vary in name and recipe between Italian regions but the general idea is that a big dish or mold is lined with grilled auberines or pastry. It is then filled with pasta or rice bound with rich tomato sauce, eggs or cheese along with a myriad of other savory tidbits like beef, meatballs, mushrooms, sausages, chard or truffles. After baking in the oven and allowing to set on the side a while, you are left with a rich, heavy and tasty meal to be washed down with copious amounts of vino.

The mammoth Silver Spoon cookbook has a whole chapter of timballo recipes that I will no doubt work my way through now I have dispelled the myth that this dish is only appropriate for when royalty visits. As I was cooking for a lot of people and I had never made a timballo before, I put in quite a bit of research, finally settling on a recipe by the rather beautiful Giada De Laurentiis, an American Italian chef.

The original recipe I used can be found on foodnetwork.com but as I had converted all the measurements for I thought I would retype it here, along with my notes and amendments. This recipe is not an exact science so it will happily accept an extra this or that. I didn't get a picture of a cut slice of the timballo as I had lots of waiting guests but it did look like the one on the recipe link - I promise!

The quantities below will serve 6. I doubled it up although there was too much filling for the aubergine lined molds which was no great shakes at it was reheated the next day for a well needed hangover cure.

You need a 9-inch springform pan.

Ingredients
2 medium eggplants, sliced 1/4-inch thick (I used 3)
50ml olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
230g penne pasta (A robust, good quality pasta is essential here - I used De Cecco)
1 medium onion, diced
230g pound ground beef
230g Italian pork sausage (I halved this, using a particularly punchy fennel sausage and removing from the skin, rolling into little meatballs)
60ml Marsala wine
210g frozen peas, thawed
2 cups store-bought marinara sauce (Nah! I made a thick tomato sauce in the morning with sieved tomatoes as well as tinned tomatoes - see the first part of the recipe)
170g diced smoked mozzarella cheese (I used unsmoked as I think this will be too overpowering)
170g grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus 1/4 cup
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Make a simple tomato sauce by gently frying an onion in olive oil until transparent, then adding 2 tins of tomatoes and about 500g of sieved tomatoes/passata, a splosh of red wine and seasoning. Cover and allow to simmer for at least 30 minutes, 45 is better until thick, rich and reduced.

Place a griddle pan over medium-high heat. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the aubergine slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the aubergine until tender and colored with grill marks, about 4 minutes per side. Set aside. This is the worst of the work so stick some tunes on and accept you will be by the cooker for a while.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite (really, really important) stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes depending on your pasta. Drain pasta.

Meanwhile, warm the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the beef and sausage and brown the meat, breaking it into bite-sized pieces with a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Add the Marsala and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the peas and tomato sauce and stir to combine.

Add the cheeses, basil, and cooked pasta. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 175C. Line the springform pan with the grilled aubergine. Be sure that the slices overlap and hang over the edge of the pan. Fill the pan with the pasta mixture, pressing down to make sure the pan is filling up evenly. Fold the aubergine slices up over the top of the pasta and add a few more slices on top to completely enclose the timballo. Bake the timballo until warmed through and the cheese has melted, about 30 minutes. Let rest on the counter for 10 minutes to set.

Breathe deep and invert the timbale onto a serving plate and remove the springform pan. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese over the top. Slice and serve with extra tomato sauce on the side.

SNEAK PREVIEW: Wikio gastronomy listings for December



So who is going to be the Christmas number one? Yes pop pickers, it’s that time again to see the movers and shakers of the UK food and drink blog scene. Dan from Wikio has kindly supplied me with a preview of Decembers top 30 UK gastronomy blogs.

The top 10 generally shows the food and drink blogger heavyweights. Most of whom I follow, but as with the music charts, personal preference is not taken into account and a lot of my favourite blogs that keep me entertained are much lower down on the list or not on there at all (probably because they have not submitted themselves). But it is an interesting list none the less!

Great to see one of my favourites, Essex Eating, shimmy up a whopping 16 places and Intoxicating Prose up 14. Annes Kitchen though climbs a staggering 31 places, so I'll definitely be checking that one out. And little old me just peeks in at number 30.

But it's no surprise that the coveted festive top spot to close 2009 is held firmly by Word of Mouth.

Rankings depend on the number and recency of links from other blogs within their articles (backlinks) and blogrolls are not taken into account.

1The Guardian - Word of Mouth (=)
2Eat like a girl (+1)
3Food Stories (-1)
4Hollow Legs (=)
5London Eater (+1)
6Cheese and Biscuits (+1)
7DOS HERMANOS (-2)
8Spittoonextra (+1)
9World Foodie Guide (-1)
10The Foodie List (+7)
11Thring for Your Supper (+1)
12Tinned Tomatoes (+1)
13Tamarind and Thyme (-3)
14Gastronomy Domine (-3)
15Intoxicating Prose (+14)
16An American in London (-1)
17Dinner Diary (-3)
18Londonelicious (+4)
19The Cottage Smallholder (+4)
20Ambrosia and Nectar (-4)
21Essex Eating (+16)
22Ice Cream Ireland (-4)
23Annes Kitchen (+31)
24Crumbs and Doilies Cupcakes blog (-5)
25Domestic Goddess in Training (-5)
26Kavey Eats (-1)
27Cherrapeno (+5)
28A Slice of Cherry Pie (-4)
29Culinary Travels Of A Kitchen Goddess (-8)
30The Graphic Foodie (+9)

Ranking by Wikio