Tuesday, 28 February 2012

GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen), a mini rant, and this weekend past

The Frenchman's Cheese & Bacon burger; Fantastic "Skinny Fries" and amazing onion rings; 
A tousled looking Frenchman at GBK; The Little Sausage and I in front of the "Peace Statue" along the waterfront; Watching the sunset for another day

Just a snapshot of our weekend: lunch at GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen), and a stroll along the seafront, watching the beautiful sunset. I only wish it were warmer to have enjoyed it fully, but I'll take that view anytime.

At lunchtime, I had a hankering for a nice juicy burger. My sister had recommended a non-fast food burger chain restaurant a little while ago and since Brighton had one close by, we splurged on lunch and wandered into the North Laines for some burger action.

Warning: mini rant coming up! Do keep reading for the positive review afterwards... ;-)

One of my pet hates is getting ripped off in restaurants. It's not hard to make fresh food that tastes good, so it boggles me why so many restaurants cut corners and still serve horrible food that they should be ashamed to make people pay high prices for. 

I don't understand (well, I do understand, but think it's stupid) why kitchens don't make their own fries. I'm not talking about fast food joints since they have such a high volume of customers, it's fine because you know what to expect. It the proper sit down restaurants I have a problem with, where you expect a decent meal when paying premium prices, but get served pre-frozen food. 

It's not difficult. You cut potato into strips. They even have special machines that do it for you in seconds. You pre-fry them to cook them and set aside. Then, when an order comes in, you fry them to order, like you would frozen fries. The result? Amazing fries! Yes it takes an extra step but isn't it worth it? And it's not just fries. A lot of simple foods are pre-bought and reheated. Soups, vegetables, meat products, sauces, you name it. 

I get really passionate about this, as you've no doubt guessed, but in this day and age there is no excuse to serve crap food if you are charging people big money for it. I've worked in the hospitality industry for enough years to tell you it's not difficult. It's just laziness and profit gluttony. Yes, profits are important. I get that. But you can still make profit AND serve good food. In fact, you will probably have more business because of it. So there. 


So I was very pleasantly surprised to have a great meal at GBK on Saturday. The place was full (it was Saturday lunchtime after all), so we opted to sit outside rather than wait for a table, which was probably more convenient with a pram anyway. Although pretty chilly, the sun was shining and there was no wind so it wasn't too bad. The Little Sausage was bundled up in her "foot muff" (the nice padded sleeping bag type thing attached to her pram) and she happily munched on crackers and her 'Sophie La Giraffe' while watching us munching our food. 

The service was very friendly and helpful. Customisations were encouraged, so I ordered a Classic burger and substituted the relish for satay sauce. Delicious! The Frenchman had a Cheese and Bacon burger which was heavy on the bacon, which he enjoyed. The beef patty was nicely charred, moist and not at all overcooked, however could have done with some more seasoning. Luckily the sauce made up for it, but you could still taste the slightly bland patty underneath. The buns were your standard white sesame seed buns, but fresh and satisfactory. Most burgers conveniently come in two sizes: small and large. The small burgers was perfect for us with a side or fries and onion rings. We we pleasantly full by the end.

The highlight for me was the amazingly crunchy homemade onion rings. At £3.00 a serving, they were by far the best onion rings I've had. Breaded in Panko crumbs, they were hot and fresh. The "Skinny Fries" were also very good and you can add them to your burger for only £1.00 extra, so again, a bargain. They were simple, fresh, crunchy (but still retaining the soft insides) and something I would gladly pay for. Not sure if they were entirely handmade on the premise (most likely not) but they were not your run-of-the-mill bulk-frozen fry. Ketchup and carafes of water (with fresh mint and lime slices) were complimentary, another surprise since "free water" is usually without any embellishments. Ketchup was brought automatically to the table by the waitstaff and we could help ourselves to as much as we wanted. Sounds basic, but elsewhere you often have to pay for tiny sachets of the stuff! We were also told to help ourselves to the "Monkey nuts" (shelled peanuts) which was also an added bonus giving us something to munch on while we waited. 

What I like the most is their philosophy, which I only found out about after reading their website while writing this post:

"Our homemade dipping sauces are made everyday from scratch in each kitchen and we know you can tell the difference. We are proud of what we do and our kitchens are on view, so take a look at us either cooking your food to order or making sure they stay spotless. One thing you will never see is a microwave." source: http://www.gbk.co.uk/about-us/

I like that. It proves my point that if they can do it, so can the other restaurants. Good on you, Gourmet Burger Kitchen!

All in all, an unexpected, surprising (in a great way), good value for money experience that we will be repeating. Get to one if you can!

Gourmet Burger Kitchen
44-47 Gardner Street, 
Brighton, BN11UN
Phone: 01273 685 895 

Opening Hours:
Mon to Thu: 12:00 - 22:00 
Fri: 12:00 - 23:00 
Sat: 11:00 - 23:00 
Sun: 12:00 - 22:00 

*This review is entirely my own opinion based on my experiences. No one paid or sponsored me to do so. 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Lanes of Brighton

The Lanes is the 'old town' of Brighton that I absolutely love. 

When there's nothing else to do, I stroll around the area and window-shop the stunning boutiques and specialty stores in the cobble stone streets. Just on the edge, the high-end stores are lined up on the "Rodeo Drive" of Brighton, also know as East Street. 

Taking up a small area of Brighton town centre near the ocean, The Lanes is filled with unique boutiques, restaurants (chain and independent) as well as jewellers and art galleries. 

My favourite boutique is 'Papillion', a beautiful store full of things to decorate your home. I come in at least once a week or so to drool and daydream how I wish I could decorate my apartment. After talking to the owner, he said he goes regularly to the trade shows in Paris and Stockholm to secure the latest fashions in home furnishing. A lot of the stock is from SIA as well as some local designers and companies. Really classy, unique things!

8 Union Street, 
Brighton, BN1 1HA

There's also a little independent toy shop, called Potter's Children Store where I love to pick up wooden toys for the Little Sausage. The prices are very reasonable and they import a lot of their stock from Europe as well. I always prefer wooden toys over plastic, so I like coming here because they have so many cute and interesting toys. I can't wait to buy little wooden train sets or wooden picnic sets for the Little Sausage when she's older! In the meantime, they have little wooden handheld toys for under-12 month olds that will satisfy me until she's older.

Potter's Children Store
41 Meeting House Lane
Brighton, BN1 1HB

If you come to Brighton, you can't miss it. Most tourists come here and it's such a special place for locals too. 

*Photos used, with permission, by Nadja E.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Newborn (and beyond) baby list of necessities

The Little Sausage has just turned 8 months old and it got me thinking about all the things that have gotten us through until now. Without getting all "mommy blogger" on you all, I just wanted to share a few of the things I couldn't do without when it comes to bringing baby home and making life so much easier (baby-wise) for all the new parents out there.

Apart from the obvious necessities like cot, pram, bottles, etc.; here is a list of my top newborn baby-related, sanity-saving devices:

Bouncer chair (vibration optional)
I find this chair invaluable. In the mornings, we put the Little Sausage in it as we prepare her breakfast (or nip off to the bathroom quickly, answer the door, or just for fun). We give her a few hand held toys and she can easily amuse herself for a little while. We used it from birth and she's still in it at 8 months old. When you're desperate for a shower and there's no one else around, you can put the chair in the bathroom while your having a shower and baby can still be supervised.

Baby sling
We live on the top floor of a three-storey building. A pram is not feasible all the time. The sling lets you leave the house when you just want nip out quickly or when you're in a hurry. When she was small, we would put the Little Sausage in it and walk around the apartment when she couldn't sleep. She would fall asleep easily with the gentle movement. And it's all snuggly for both you and your baby. Plus, it will give any man a taste of what it's like to be pregnant! hehehe. 

Banana (or u-shaped) pillow, aka breast-feeding pillow
I used this to keep my back from aching while I bottle fed the Little Sausage (yes, you can use it for breast feeding to get more comfortable) and it is so easy: just lay it across your lap and position the baby in it. The pillow holds them in place and provides a nice soft snuggly environment. It's ergonomic and my chiropractor also recommends them.

Bottle warmer (for formula fed babies)
I prepare my bottles in advance by measuring out the water and placing aside. One bottle goes in the warmer overnight and is ready to go as soon as baby cries for milk in the night. No waiting for the kettle, pouring boiling water with only one eye open, and waiting for it to cool in the middle of the night. The water is at the perfect temperature and all you have to do is add the pre-measured formula. Super fast and great when your all zombie-like.

Pre-measured formula dispenser
I measure out the required scoops of formula in advance into each compartment. When I make a fresh bottle, I just shake the contents of one compartment into the bottle and it's ready to go. Great when your out-and-about or in the middle of the night.

Swaddle (Woombie preferred)
If your baby is anything like mine, she would (as I like to put it) 'attack her own head' and keep herself awake. We began swaddling her using a "Woombie" and she was very content. She now has the freedom to move her arms but not to the extent that she keeps herself awake. VERY RECOMMENDED! Any swaddle can be used, but having used a few different methods and brands, the Woombie has been the best one in my opinion. 

Memory foam pillow
A pillow specially designed for babies is so necessary if you want to prevent the dreaded flat-head-syndrome. It is soft, flat enough to be comfortable for baby, and will cushion the head ergonomically. Another must have. We use the 'Clevamama Clevafoam Baby Pillow' and I wish I had one - it's so spongy. They also make them in toddler-size.

All of these items are still being used, daily, and have been since birth.

When they're a bit older:

Supporting seat and tray table
In small spaces, this is invaluable. We use ours in place of a high chair (our apartment is just not big enough to have a highchair set up - we don't even have room for a dining table!). We attach the tray table and feed her meals and snacks from it. It is sturdy and safe, and she seems to be really comfortable in it. A lot of people have said their little ones kept trying to escape, but I think if you use it from the time they are starting to sit up (not necessarily on their own, but being able to sit supported) like we did with the Little Sausage, they will be fine until they become more independent. The Little Sausage has been it it happily since the age of 4 1/2 months. 

Bouncing play centre
The Little Sausage LOVES this. She bounces away and is amused for ages. It keeps her out of trouble and allows you to get stuff done quickly while she's having fun. A must have!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Becoming a 'Pasta Master' at Jamie Oliver's Recipease

A while back, my sister and I took advantage of the "two for the price of one" promotion on lessons at the Brighton branch of Recipease, the cooking school/store/café founded by Jamie Oliver. You might recall a post I wrote about visiting his Clapham Junction branch but this time I was a participant and not just a visitor.

The class was called "Pasta Master" and we learned firstly how to make pasta, and then how to turn it into a meal using roasted butternut squash with chilli, garlic and toasted pine nuts. I had never even thought about using squash with pasta, but it worked well. It was so delicious and happened to be without meat, something one doesn't really miss at all.

Recipease Brighton
72 Western Road
Brighton, East Sussex
United Kingdom

Homemade pasta with Chilli and Garlic Roasted Squash
Based on the recipe used at Recipease Brighton

This recipe is per person but can be multiplied to serve more. It is deliberately vague since the amounts of ingredients don't need to be exact (except for the pasta). Just use your instincts. It'll taste good anyway.

Pasta (per person)
100g Type 00 / Pasta flour
1 medium egg

In a bowl, mix together flour and egg until combined. Knead dough on a flat surface until smooth. Cover in plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes. Cut in half and starting on the highest/thickest setting on your pasta machine, roll through several times. Each time folding in half and putting through again until the dough is even and smooth. Begin rolling through at smaller/thinner settings until you have the desired thickness. Roll through the fettucini cutter (or cut by hand).

Roasted Squash
Half a Butternut Squash (per person)
Olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 red chilli, or more if you wish

To finish the dish:
A heaped tablespoon each of mascapone or créme fraîche
Handful parmesan, freshly grated
Handful parsley (or any herb you prefer), roughly chopped
Pine nuts, toasted
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a roasting dish, mix the squash chunks, finely chopped chilli and the minced garlic together with a good couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Place in a hot oven until it is tender. Set aside. You can do this in advance and keep refrigerated for up to a couple of days.

In a hot frying pan, add the cooked squash and warm up over a medium heat.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook your fresh pasta until tender but not over cooked. It won't take more than a minute.

Add your pasta straight out of the water to the hot frying pan. Add a couple of spoonfuls of the cooking water to moisten. Add a good dollop of mascapone or créme fraîche, add the parmesan and stir in. Sprinkle in the parsley, and season with salt and pepper.

Finish with a scattering of pine nuts and extra parmesan. Serve straight away.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Epic French Toast

On Saturday mornings we like to spoil ourselves with a nice breakfast. Usually it's something a little more simple, like soft boiled eggs and toast, or a baguette from the bakery around the corner with butter and jam. Coffee is a given. Orange juice on the side. 

I had a craving for something more substantial this morning. Like French toast. With bananas. Hell, let's add bacon to it too. And toffee (caramel) sauce. Maple syrup is good, but toffee sauce is better.

While describing our epic breakfast to my parents on Skype (that's how proud I was of my culinary accomplishment), my dad was vaguely disgusted by the sound of it. Mum was a little more open to the idea. The Americans, who practically invented this kind of thing, have had the right idea for years.

For those who love sweet and salty together (of which my dad clearly isn't a fan) - you will love it!

Pami's Epic French toast:

Serves two hungry people or three not-so-hungry people.

4 thickly sliced brioche or white bread, stale if possible (or fresh can be used if sudden unexpected craving hits)
3 medium-sized eggs
50mls semi-skimmed or whole milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon sugar
A dash (about a teaspoon) of vanilla extract

Butter for the frying pan

A banana each

2-3 slices of streaky bacon each

Toffee sauce or maple syrup, to taste

Sprinkle with extra cinnamon or powdered sugar, to taste

Fry off the bacon and set aside on a paper towel to drain excess grease. 

In a bowl, whisk eggs, milk, vanilla and cinnamon sugar together and pour into a flat dish wide enough to fit your bread slices.

Melt a little butter in the frying pan, over a low-medium heat.

Place each bread slice in the eggy mixture on both sides until soaked through. Making sure you leave the eggy mixture to drip off as much as possible, add each piece to the hot frying pan. When the first side is golden brown, flip it over. When the other side is also golden brown, remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. Repeat with the remaining bread.

To assemble:
Place one slice on each serving plate and top with sliced banana and bacon. Drizzle with syrup or toffee sauce. Add another slice of French toast diagonally across and repeat with the remaining banana, bacon and sauce. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar and serve with knife and fork while hot and fresh. 


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Cafe Sacher

One of the cake-related highlights of our recent trip to Vienna was Cafe Sacher. The official home of the Sacher torte, and descendants of the inventor of the closely-kept secret recipe, they hold the trophy for my favourite version of this Viennese delicacy. 

Once inside I was transported back a century to times when presentation and opulence was an important part of the Viennese cafe culture. I like this kind of thing! The serving staff were dressed in pristine suits and dresses, there was an atmosphere of upper class elegance, and our order was served on silver trays. I found myself in my own little place of luxury, something I think everyone likes to experience once in a while!

They have a long history and even Empress Elisabeth "Sisi" of Austria was said to have ordered cakes from Cafe Sacher, which we learned from the little booklet (with the menu and Cafe Sacher's history inside) on each table. 

I had a hot chocolate with espresso (much like a Mocha), and the Frenchman had hot chocolate with Sacher liqueur which was a chocolatey liquor you could pour yourself into your drink, to your taste. Delicious. Not cheap, but well worth the expense. The cake itself was moist and chocolatey with a nice proportion of apricot conserve between the layers. Sometimes others use too much apricot however this was perfect. 

Café Sacher, Wien 
Philharmonikerstrasse 4, A-1010 Vienna
Tel.: +43 (0)1 - 51 456 0
Tel.: +43 (0)1 - 51 456 0
E-Mail: wien@sacher.com

*Disclaimer: no one approached me or paid for any part of this review. This review is my opinion based on my own experience. No one benefits from this review in any way, except you, the public, who may go there and enjoy the cake as much as I did.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Apple and Pecan Crumble

My sister came down from London to spend her weekend with us. Since she doesn't get much home cooking nowadays, I make sure I spoil her while she's here. Her favourite desserts include vanilla custard (or Creme Anglaise) so while looking through my unread copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Everyday, I found a recipe for Apple and Walnut Crumble which was begging for a nice drizzle of custard. After reading it cover to cover, I love this cook book. I would probably make 95% of the recipes in it (the remaining recipes I would adapt to suit my tastes as most of them are made with lamb and I would substitute another meat).

I tweaked the recipe a little, since I had half a packet of pecans waiting to be used up instead of walnuts, and I added coconut because I am a bit of a coconut fiend. I was able to whip this up very quickly and the pecans absolutely make this! I made individual servings and froze the leftover crumble in an airtight container. I now have crumble mixture ready to go any time I have the craving. 

Apple & Pecan Crumble
adapted from a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from 'River Cottage Everyday' page 358.

Serves 8:

1.25kg cooking apples, peeled, cored, and finely sliced
50-100g caster sugar
Cinnamon, to taste

For the crumble:
225g Plain flour
A pinch of salt
200g cold unsalted butter, chopped roughly into cubes
150g brown sugar (light or dark, doesn't matter)
75g Oatmeal
75g Ground almonds
50g Desiccated coconut
100g Pecans

Preheat oven to 180º Celsius. 

Put all the crumble ingredients into a large enough bowel and rub the butter into the dry ingredients, until the mixture resembles course crumbs (and everything has a bit of butter all over it). Leave aside for now. 

Toss cut apples with the cinnamon and sugar and spread in an even layer in your chosen baking dish.

Sprinkle with crumble mixture. Bake until golden brown, approximately 20 minutes or so. 

Serve with custard, vanilla ice-cream or whipped cream and enjoy.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

A taste of Vienna

All packed and ready to go!

We just returned from a two week trip to France, encompassing Paris and the little town my inlaws live, as well as four days in a city the Frenchman and I (sans baby) have come to love: Vienna, Austria.

at Cafe Schwarzenberg
Breakfast Viennese style

Vienna for us is the ultimate indulgence. Cake and hot chocolate every afternoon, lovely Wiener sausages and goulash mopped up with bread for lunch and/or dinner (or both, in many cases), a traditional breakfast of soft boiled eggs, kaiser bread rolls, butter crescents and fruity Staud's jam made right there in Vienna. I must admit that most of my love of Vienna comes from the incredible food. Not only is it freshly made, tasty, but also very reasonably priced. You can eat like a king in Vienna much less than it would in many other cities. Nobody bugs you in Vienna. People give you respect and leave you be. I really like that. Women-of-a-certain-age still parade around in their furs, gentlemen in respectable suits and hats. The old imperial air still hangs in Vienna. That's my kind of style.

Graben (main shopping street)

On the first evening of our arrival, we saw a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic playing Strauss in the Musikverein, the same venue of the famous New Year's Concert. With the exception of tourists, people dressed to impress, something I do miss seeing elsewhere. I grew up thinking that when attending special occasions (nice dinners, concerts, travelling, etc) you dressed nicely. It is an old fashioned mentality that my mother instilled in me and I'm so glad to see it still exists so obviously in Vienna. Although Austria has such a rich history and royal family that ruled a huge chunk of Europe which only ended about a hundred years ago, it now is almost ignored. They keep to themselves and never cause any trouble. A bit like Switzerland. I just find it incredible that they went from a super power to a quite almost forgotten country in only a century. 

One of our favourite haunts in Vienna is Aïda - the konditorei (pâtisserie) chain. They serve so many different types of cakes (they do light lunches and breakfast too) and the most amazing hot chocolate. It's both rich and subtle at the same time and goes perfectly with your cake but not your waistline!

Fish eye view of the cake cabinet at Aïda, taken with the Frenchman's new Christmas toy

Pictured below is a slice the Mozart torte, our favourite and the one we'd been looking most forward to. It's inspired by the Mozart Kugel chocolates from Salzburg. In this case it's chocolate cake with a layer of chocolate truffle cream and marzipan in the middle, covered in ganache. So good! We also went to other cafés/konditorei but I will talk about those later.

Who could be in Vienna without eating Schnitzel? We went to Figlmüller, arguably the most famous Schnitzel purveyors in Vienna. Some say it's a tourist trap, but I saw plenty of locals enjoying their meals there too. It may be a tourist favourite, but the food is actually good, fresh, and worth every cent. Again, very reasonably priced. The service was fast and friendly too. Just make sure you specify smoking or non-smoking when asking for a table. We were automatically put in the smoking section (we didn't realise they were still allowed to smoke indoors in Austria) but it wasn't terribly bad so we stayed put. We  overheard another group asking for a table in the non-smoking section and they were told in that case there was a bit of a wait as the section was full. 

They have two locations, one in a quaint cobbled stone arcade, and another larger restaurant around the corner. On our last visit, we went to the one in the arcade but this time it looked too full so we went to the other. I would prefer the atmosphere of the arcade restaurant but this one wasn't too bad either.

Last time we had the traditional veal schnitzel, however it was the size of Texas and I wasn't keen on the taste or chewiness of the veal. This time we both had the chicken schnitzel (hühner-schnitzel). It was the perfect size for my huge appetite and I was full to bursting after the last bite (but pleasantly so). Make sure you order a salad on the side. You have a choice of just potato salad, or a mixed plate of different salads. We both chose the mixed plate but I enjoyed the small spoonful of potato salad within that I will probably take a whole plate of only potato salad next time.

So, to end the first bombardment of photos, I leave you with the view from our hotel room. It had been cold but not snowy during our trip until I specifically asked it to snow overnight in time for the day of our anniversary. It worked!