savoury snark

a little bit culinary curmudgeon and a whole lot of love.

09 April 2009

mange tout - 81 trafalgar street, brighton

So as some of you may know, my time here in Brighton is soon coming to an end. The Hub has landed a job in sunny San Francisco and the bizarrely-long 6 month wait for his greencard is finally coming to an end. I feel sad about leaving but I just keep reminding myself that we are moving to a city that is pretty much known as the culinary Mecca of America. It helps. A bit.

So of course when I see this swanky little French eatery open up practically on my doorstep I have to sigh softly at yet one more place to which I will have to say good-bye. I stopped in a couple of weeks ago, during their opening weekend, after being lured in by all of their homemade cakes and pastries, clearly visible from the window.

The 2 French lads who run Mange Tout were very nice and quite enthusiastic. You can tell that they are really putting their heart and soul into this venture and it shows. It feels almost (dare I say?) American, in the way that when a restaurant in the U.S. gets it right it's damn near perfect.

The menu has all your French fare; from Croque Monsieurs and Madames, Chevre Salad and buttery croissants stuffed with ham and Gruyere. I will confess here and now that I have never been one to seek out French cuisine. And I'm admitting this fully aware that this might get me banned from the Culinary Cool Kids table. For a long time I believed that all French food had either eggs or mayonnaise or both. It's only recently that I have managed to get over my mayonnaise aversion (though it's still early days) and have dared to try eggs any way other than scrambled. Poached eggs with hollandaise used to be my worst culinary nightmare. I don't know what exactly I was so frightened of - it's fantastic.

Back to Mange Tout - it's situated right on Trafalgar Street where it can lure in rail commuters with the smell of fresh coffee and bread. Their coffee is locally roasted in Hove and I found it incredibly smooth with no bitterness - that's a good cuppa joe right there!

My goat's cheese salad was perfectly dressed and the croutons were not too hard or too soft as is often the case with croutons. I have the darnedest time getting them right myself.

I took a visiting friend there for brunch (and we all know how hard it is to find a good place for proper brunch here in the UK) and indulged in their lovely home-made French Onion soup. Or as it's known in France, Onion soup. It's a lovely spot for lunch, breakfast or coffee and, this being England, afternoon tea. It will no doubt fast become a favourite place for the locals to relax and unwind whilst reading the Sunday papers. Bliss.

06 June 2007

shame spiral into lemon-y goodness

I am obsessed with all things lemon, mainly lemon sweets and desserts. I see no point in buying any lemon curd other than Duchy Originals by Prince Charles himself. On the labels of your average lemon curd you can't even find "lemons" listed as an ingredient. I wish I was kidding.

Imagine my surprise when I read this on the back of my Duchy Originals jar (whilst standing with my teaspoon ready to scoop):

"Delicious served in pies and puddings, on ice-cream or yogurt or even by the spoonful straight from the jar." did they know??

03 February 2007

hack. cough. wheeze. coughcough.

Sorry for the hiatus everyone. Another cold has descended upon me with the wrath of Jade Goody meets Shilpa Shetty. I think I hacked up part of my lung last night. Whenever I get ill all I want to do is curl up with some chicken soup. So I made some chicken soup. I even went so far as to make the stock from scratch, ya know, since I had the leftovers from a roast chicken. I've recently discovered that making a roast chicken is not nearly as big a deal as I thought it was and it delights me to no end to know that all I have to do is shove a lemon, some garlic and an onion up its arse and it will taste lovely. I know that roast chicken will be one of those dishes that I will endlessly try to perfect but for right now I think I'm doing ok:

Roast Chicken a la Amanda (and thousands of others, I'm sure):

-1.5 kg organic (really, don't waste your time with that battery reared shite) chicken, giblets removed (I got mine from Waitrose for about £8)
-handful of organic shallots
-half a bulb of organic garlic, slashed in half again
-1 organic onion, trimmed and peeled, cut in half
-1 organic, unwaxed lemon, cut in half
-sprigs of fresh thyme, divided
-sprigs of fresh rosemary, divided
-good quality EVOO or butter
-ground white pepper and Maldon flaky sea salt

Preheat your oven per instructions on bird.
Meanwhile, first season the inside of your bird.
Then stuff shallots, garlic, half the lemon, onion and most of the herbs up its arse.
Squeeze the other half of the lemon over the body, smear with olive oil or butter and rub in the salt, pepper and remaining herbs (chopped).
Baste every 1/2 hour til your bird is done, per instructions on bird.
After removing, cover with foil and let rest for 10 minutes or so. Voila!

Make sure you let the carcass cool and then scavenge off all the bits of meat and bones so you can make your very own stock. You may as well since the bird cost £8 and all.

Right. Back to the Strepsils and the Lemsip.

15 January 2007

it's a bird! it's a plane! it's....a pomegranate?

I'm sure everyone by now has heard all the buzz about so-called superfoods. What was once a lowly piece of fruit or veg can now be declared as the very uber of healthy, the creme de la creme of your produce aisle. Any food given superfood status automatically skyrockets in sales and pretty much needs its own agent and dressing room. 5 years ago did anyone in the Western world even know what a pomegranate looked like? It was as foreign to us as bananas were to Brits before the 1950's. But now they're all over the place; on our juice shelves, sprinkled over salads and whizzed into our smoothies. I am a great lover of the beautiful, jewel-like pomegranate, as I've previously declared. There's something about discovering a new fruit or a new veggie that just really excites me, probably more than it should to be honest. I tried my very first persimmon over the holidays and subsequently also discovered my first food allergy, although I've been told that they feel like metallic cotton in others' mouths as well. Shame really, because they're such a lovely shocking shade of orange, quite unlike anything else that regularly goes into my fruit bowl (except orange).

My point is that the superfood trend has really taken the marketing world by storm. Consumers love food trends and I am one of them. I tried acai (pronounced ah-sah-ee) for the very first time last month.

Hailed as even super-er than the lowly blueberry or even the posh pomegranate acai hails from Brazil and I'm sure their farmers are more than happy to push their exotic detoxing, antioxidant-rich fruit onto the yummy mummies and food nerds of the West. Pomegreat has even gotten in on the acai action and have released a version of their pomegranate juice blended with acai. (It's very yummy). Innocent smoothies have released a line of superfood smoothies which are on average about £1 more a carton than their normal 1 litre smoothies. Probably worth it considering how jampacked with nutrients it is. Currently residing on my fridge door is their Superfood Detox Smoothie which contains - of course - blueberries, pomegranates and acai. It's very rich and very scrumptious.

While I'm praising Innocent, I'll go on to say that I've sampled their Smoothie o'the Month, which of course is also a detox smoothie, and it contains beetroot, ginger, apples and pear. Incredibly yummy. I love veggie juice but I'm afraid drinking it straight is a bit too hardcore for me so blended with fruit and the almighty ginger is just perfect.

I suppose I could get all properly curmudgeonly here and rant about how the marketing world is preying on our "Are we getting 5-a-day??" insecurities but I won't, mainly because I fully support 5-a-day and know that on the days where I forget to include fruit and veg I feel like a big slug. I felt so proud of my best friend's son, who at the age of 4 really wanted to try my orange and carrot juice because he "loves carrots!" and was all over my pomegranate-blueberry smoothie like it was a Snickers bar.

Why do I know I'm going to get sacked with a kid that only wants to eat noodles with butter. Sigh.

16 November 2006

you thought you could evade me forever...

...but I have prevailed! Every so often there is a commonly-used U.S. ingredient that I have to struggle to find here in the UK. I now have to buy my tinned pumpkin for pumpkin pie online. Same goes if I want to bake a really good pecan pie and need corn syrup. However, what once was another culinary co-hort in the conspiracy to frustrate this ex-pat has been FOUND.

I give you...buttermilk:

Although I've been reassured by many that buttermilk is not unheard of here in cool Britannia I'll be damned if I've ever stumbled across it in any of my local markets and that includes my beloved Waitrose. So when I was in Infinity Foods one day (local vegetarian co-op shop) I was so excited to find not only buttermilk but organic buttermilk! Google has revealed that this particular buttermilk hails from a dairy farm up in Yorkshire. Not really local but I'll take what I can get.

Of course, being a pseudo-Southern girl at heart the first thing I did was gather up some ribs for bbq'n and make Buttermilk Biscuits:

As you can see what we Yanks know as biscuits aint no cookie. Instead they're light, fluffy and very buttery. These here biscuits are topped with Southern Sausage Gravy which is incredibly delicious and not at all good for you. Rock on. You can make them for breakfast but there sure aint no harm in having them for dinner, as we did last night. Yes I'm fully aware that I'm developing somewhat of a twang as I blog these.

Buttermilk Biscuits (adapted from Everyday Food)

2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk, plus more if needed

1. Preheat oven to 200C. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Using a fork, pastry blender, or your fingers, incorporate butter into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse meal.
2. Mix in buttermilk until a sticky dough forms; you may need to add up to 1 tablespoon more buttermilk.

3. Drop 8 mounds (each a scant 1/3 cup) onto a nonstick baking sheet; lightly pat tops to flatten slightly.
4. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

And now for the Sausage Gravy: (adapted from It's All American Food by David Rosengarten)

450g crumbled breakfast sausage (I use any from Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Range and just remove it from the casings)
2T butter
1/4 white flour
3c cool milk
Buttermilk Biscuits

-Saute the sausage in preheated pan til nice and brown. Remove from pan with juices and reserve.
-Melt butter in a pot and slowly whisk in the flour. Keep whisking til roux is a nice brownish colour.
-Whisk in the milk, slowly, getting rid of any lumps.
-Continue whisking over medium heat til gravy starts to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or til it's thickened. Make sure you keep whisking so it doesn't get stuck to the pan!
-Add in crumbled sausage and serve over warmed, halved biscuits.

24 October 2006

shifting uncomfortably.

So last night Stephen got home from work a bit late and I had already dined. More precisely I had fish sticks (fish fingers for the Brits) n' tater-tots. (Ok, not really. Especially since they don't have tater-tots in the UK.) I actually had homemade haddock, horseradish and cheddar fishcakes we picked up at Middle Farm this weekend with potato latkes and spinach. I kept the oven on for the hub-bub so he could just swish his in when he got home. He took one look at his latkes and said, "I really fancy some beans." Beans? Sure, no problem, I know I keep a tin or two of them in the back of the cupboard somewhere. Lo and behold he found his beans. Then he went to heat them up. With my Le Creuset.

Insert dead silence with chirping crickets.

I'm all, " want to use my most expensive heat up..baked beans..?" I gritted my teeth, made sure he knew NOT to use a metal utensil for stirring and let him do his thing. In my Le Creuset. With Baked Beans.

To re-cap, this:

+ this:

=bewilderment and a sense of sacrilege for Amanda. It's kind of like using a styrofoam cup to drink Cristal or using Wonder bread to make a sandwich with the finest Jamon Iberico.

in praise of piccalilli.

It takes me a while to warm up to certain foods over on this side of the pond. Some I find myself falling in love with immediately and thus overindulging to the point of not wanting to eat it for another year, as is the case with chicken tikka sandwiches from O'Briens sandwich shop, pickled onion crisps and anything tasting of blackcurrant. Other times I look at items in the grocery store and think to myself that I don't really need to try them, that my life is not in any way, shape or form lacking because I have never sampled pork pies, sausage rolls or in this case, piccalilli. I could take or leave porkie pies and sausage rolls but piccalilli is now finding its way into a permanent nook on my refrigerator door.

In short piccalilli is basically mustard with diced cauliflower, gherkins and sometimes green beans, mixed with turmeric (for the bright yellow goodness) and ginger. My first sampling of piccalilli was last month, at our local food festival. Stephen and I were happily sampling our wee hearts out with the likes of all the local wines, ciders, cheeses and chutneys when I stumbled across a chilli-enhanced piccalilli from the Chili Jam Company, Picca-chilli-lilli.

It was absolutely wonderful, just the right blend of tangy and spicy with a bit of sweet as well. I slathered it on baguettes with nothing else but some german salami and mature cheddar. I'm wondering if Stephen even saw any of that jar. I somehow doubt it.

My local Sainsbury's had very few piccalillis to choose from and they all seemed rather average. I bought some of their own and found it to be completely satisfactory for my everyday needs, ie as a substitute for mere mustard on sandwiches or on a nice slice of ham with a Ploughman's lunch. I think we all know that it's not going to end here. No, it won't end until I find my ultimate everyday piccalilli, one that costs more than 41p per jar. Any suggestions would be most welcome.

16 October 2006

what have i done?

While trying to fall asleep last night at Stephen's parents' house in Kent, I slowly came to the realization that, after inviting his brother and his sister and their partners to Thanksgiving next month, I will be cooking for about 19 people.

I may need to invest in a few more casserole dishes.