Mince pie blind taste test 2014

Mince pies! Who doesn't love these?!

And it's not everyday you come home to a bag of them you have to taste test (poor me eh!). On unwrapping them from their plain brown bags, it was clear there were five very different pies.

Because you eat with your eyes too, they have been rated on their appearance and then blind tasted after. I said I would never be blindfolded again when eating food after the worst PR event of my life earlier this year, but hey, in the safety of your own home...

PIE A



Appearance
This is clearly a tin foil case mass produced pie but of a better quality than most I would say. Quite attractive top and crimping. Mincemeat was reasonably full although there was a little gap at the top.
Blind taste
The pastry has a shop bought flavour and texture. The mincemeat is juicy, well spiced and nicely textured. The overall pie is a little sugary though.
Rating
7/10

PIE B



Appearance
These look homemade, old fashioned and the thick pastry seems to be partially wholewheat.
Blind taste
These are not too sweet which is good and the pastry has an appealing crumble. But the filling is quite wet and there is a horrible synthetic oil taste which runs through the mincemeat.
Rating
5/10

PIE C



Appearance
Nice thickness to the pastry, not too thick or thin and very quaint. A Charles Dickens looking mince pie if that makes any sense at all!
Blind taste
Pastry was crisp and very flavourful. The mincemeat has a nice punch of citrus and a very unique malty taste. A pie with character; grown up but maybe not for everyone as it didn't deliver a sugar hit.
Rating
9/10

PIE D



Appearance
"Exceedingly" commercial in appearance, with the holly debossed lid.
Blind taste
Horrible, horrible, horrible pastry. Disintegrates on biting to a powdery mush which sticks to the roof of your mouth. Sugary and sticky and just disgusting. Money is that this is a Kipling or own-brand budget pie. Rankety rank, cheque book and pen.
Rating
0/10

PIE E



Appearance
Not a mince pie as we know it. A reinvented format that will either be a revelation or a gimmick. There was no pastry and filling, more of a cake brownie. Money on the fact that this is a Heston for Waitrose pie.
Blind taste
Overwhelming cinnamon spice to these and after that hit they are not unappealing, just a bit quite one dimensional and bland. No juice or texture to them really. Meh.
Rating
6/10

I later found out the results.

PIE A 7/10 - Marks & Spencer £1.80 / 6 pack
PIE B 5/10 - The Village Bakery Organic Mince Pies, £4.55 / 6 pack
PIE C 9/10 - The Hearth Bakehouse, Heritage mince pies with Harveys Ale, £3.95 / 6 pack
PIE D 0/10 - Aldi, 85p / 6 pack
PIE E 6/10 - Heston from Waitrose Spiced shortcrust mince pies, £3.50 / 6 pack

Obviously this isn't an extensive list. It was The Hearth in Lewes that dropped these off actually, I suppose to prove a point that their Heritage mince pies are up there with the best, but you would expect that. They are made by skilled hands using heritage flours with a splash of the local Harveys Christmas Ale in the mince meat. Then baked in a wood oven for goodness sake! Blindfold or not, of course they are going to taste better than a mass produced pie, although I had higher hopes for the Heston pie.

I would have like to have tried pies from Fortnum & Mason or Harrods as well as all of the supermarket brands and maybe a few more niche brands too. I have an account handler that positively swears by Forfars pies! Everyone has an opinion on mince pies so which are your favourites to leave out for Santa this year?

Victoria made Christmas cakes

What can you possibly say about the cakes of Brighton's Victoria Watkin-Jones? Sometimes an image is all you need. 


Just beautiful aren't they? I've featured Victoria's cakes creations before and here she is again with her festive additions. You may as well put the dried fruit packaging down right this second right? She's got such an eye for clean, modern style that somehow isn't stark or cold, or you think you've seen anywhere else before.

And after tasting a huge range of them last time, I can vouch that they taste as good as they look and you can save yourself the hassle of the Christmas centrepiece with one of these beauties or gift someone you REALLY like.

Victoria can make macaron, cookies, layer cakes topped with profiteroles and fruit, iced Christmas cakes, individual fondant iced cakes with Christmas decoration or seasonal cupcakes.

As always, her cakes are decorated in small batches with fresh ingredients (with local produce where possible) and everything from the toppings to all fillings is homemade.

Prices vary from £7 for an individual fondant iced cake with Christmas decoration and buttercream to £60 for the larger cakes.

Details are for the Brighton and area only but for other pricing/order sizes contact Victoria Made.

 http://www.victoriamade.com or call 07971427998.





REVIEW: MEATLiquor, Brighton


I know what you are thinking. You in MEATLiquor? It's brash, loud, disorientating and serves calorific fast food - the thing I'm always moaning about. And yes, the prim and proper part of me (yeah it exists) shouldn't like it; I mean for one there's no tablecloth or fine cutlery for goodness sake (the horror). Instead, food is served on a metal tray with just a sheet of greaseproof paper for company and a domestic kitchen roll to wipe your mouth with. Kitchen roll!

But I really like this place. MEATLiquor burst onto the scene as a totally different dining experience that others since have tried to imitate, failing miserably. The brand and interiors have been really well considered by great design studios, with sophistication in the face of the style of graffiti, collages of unsavoury women doing unsavoury things and fizzing neon signs.



This visit was the first time I had been in the day, and it actually is far tamer. The music is low (racked up to ear bleeding at night) and the lights were on. Being quieter, you could have one of the booth rooms to yourself and service, as I found before, was really friendly. There is also a really good value lunch deal of any burger, fries and refill soda for £10.



Sitting down in a booth, surrounded by metal chains and whipping off my MAC Russian Red as prep for what was in store, I thought it was lucky I was meeting an old colleague for lunch. Trust me, you need to go here with people you have spent many hours with. This ain't no first date territory.

Having not tried their signature burger, the Dead Hippy, before I decided to tick that box. This had two mustard fried beef patties, the Dead Hippy sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, minced onions. The burgers here are really juicy, drippingly so. And doubled up meant double the mess but actually, I did manage to eat this without it completely collapsing on me. They are the Southern-US style of burger that meltingly squelch down so they just about hold together.

Normally I prefer my burgers cleaner but there is something about the unashamed naughtiness of these that are quite a pleasure. The patties had a lot of flavour and the pickles were very thick cut, something this pickle addict appreciated very much. I'm not going to even attempt to figure out what was in the secret sauce but the acidity cut through the fat of the meat to balance it out really well.

The generous portion of fries were almost too much to finish, very thin, very crisp and very salted. I didn't have room this time for the fried pickles, shrimp or the monkey fingers (strips of chicken fillet doused in hot sauce) but they are very good too.

I can't abide fizzy cola or lemonade so the fresh lime and soda included in the deal was good enough to wash it down with. If it were post the watershed then their cocktail menu is definitely worth a look.

MEATLiquor don't buck the the trend of what some burger places do. They don't even attempt to  market themselves with sustainability, where the food is sourced from or their organic credentials. All of which I think is actually very important in the food industry. But sometimes, just sometimes, you need a bit of sin in your life and I guess that's what we have MEATLiquor for.

MEATLiquor Brighton
22-23 York Place
Brighton BN1 4GU

Autumn/Winter food events in Brighton

There are some cracking food events coming up in Brighton that are unmissable. Have a look at these...

Cin Cin Winter Feast
12th December, Velo Cafe


I've featured Cin Cin quite a bit on the blog but of course i would. 1. They serve great Italian food and 2. They serve great Italian food. Their first supper club was a roaring success and this one will be too I'm sure. Expect another four courses of interesting antipasti (baked ricotta, figs, honey & orange, Bagna Cauda dip, beetroot carpaccio with goat’s cheese, salamis and stuffed) followed by baked pasta of truffle macaroni, roasted pork loin with citrus glaze and caponata sprouts, spiced Panettone bread and butter pudding with Limoncello cream. Price includes a flute of Prosecco, pear Bellini or Italian mulled wine.

AND I'll hopefully be designing the amuse bouche! 

Price £37.50/pp. Book via http://tabl.com/events/40966




The Big Fat Food Quiz with Cantina Supper

Friday 5 December 2014 7.30pm, Brighthelm Cafe, Brighthelm Centre


Apart from me not winning (I HATE NOT WINNING), last year's food quiz was an absolute scream. Your brain and taste buds will be tested across different rounds of obscure ingredients, hilarious slideshows and quick fire rounds. And this time, supperclub queen Cantina will be serving a Middle Eastern festive feast as well.

The quiz is ideally for teams of four to six but other configurations can be accommodated. Tickets cost £32.50 per person by advance payment via http://www.brightonfoodsociety.com/2014/10/pop-up-christmas-dinner-quiz-with.html



Street Diner Night Market

7-11pm 18th December 2014, Brighthelm Centre Auditorium, Queens Road, Brighton



We all know Street Diner but this is with music and booze - after dark! Perfect foodie night out I say.

Free entry
https://www.facebook.com/streetdinerbrighton



Moshimo Vegan challenge 2014

7.30pm Thursday 20th November 2014


The fifth Moshimo Vegan challenge is back and always a fun night. Eight chefs across the city are invited into Moshimo's kitchens and challenged to create the best Japenese-inspired vegan food. The dishes are then voted for by the diner on the night.

This restaurant do so much to promote sustainable fishing practices and have even won the prestigious PETA "Proggy" award.

Price: £35 (£30 for Moshimo Members).
http://www.moshimo.co.uk/moshimo_members/sushi_restaurant_brighton_special_offers/#.VF63NPSsWzM



Brighton Pavilion Ice Rink
8th November 2014 – 18th January, 2015


Even a festive humbug like me can't fail to get in the mood here. I attended the launch last week which sees the ice rink back with the uplit Pavilion as a breathtaking backdrop. It's become THE Christmas thing to do in the city.

The food offering hasn't quite hit the mark in the last years going from too high end to casual but too expensive with Jamie Oliver's catering firm last year. This year a local catering firm have taken to the helm.

The children's menu is uninspired with the usual pasta, chips and fish fingers which is a shame (target audience - COME ON!!!), but for the adults there is a try-to-please-everyone menu ranging from curry to roasts to sandwiches. There is also a decent looking festive menu (pre-order for groups) which seems a bit more coherent and would be great for a Christmas do with a difference.

But day-to-day, it remains ideal for popping in for hot chocolate and tea in the day with plenty of space for the kids to roam and the bar is ideal for post work drinks. Entrance to the cafe and restaurant is free even for non-skaters.




Cafe Marmalade's first supper
15th November 2014


I love Marmalade (really should review it for you)! It has one of the best cafe interiors and recently a very nice mobile food van too, ramping up the cool in East Brighton for sure. This is their first supper which I'm sure will be beautiful in the cafe setting. There are only a few spaces left so hurry, hurry!

PRODUCT REVIEW: Tefal Ingenio range



For essentially a space saving pan system, I don't know why I was still amazed that the box the set came in was so small. Inside there were a whopping six pans and two sets of lids. I felt like Mary Poppins pulling out pan after pan!

NOTE: I apologise for my kitchen. We still haven't go around to scoping the design and think Mr GF is going to do one of his custom builds on it with lots of concrete worktops and clean lines. I can only imagine the previous owners wore beige a lot or were forced at gunpoint to have matching faux beech tops and units with turquoise tiles. I think I would have taken the bullet.

I was quite excited about this new Ingenio range from Tefal as my non stick pan from this brand has been the only one to stand the test of time. I have a large high-sided pan (a wok/pan hybrid) but use it for everything. And despite the abuse over a good seven years, it's as good and shiny as new.

The Ingenio range answers the issue that many of us have in storing pan sets, transferring them to the oven and stacking in dishwashers. They have created a space saving idea of detachable handles (two came with the set) and allowing all of the pans to be used in the oven and placed in the fridge for food storage with the supplied plastic lids.



I was immediately impressed by the weight. Nothing says quality more in a pan. They felt solid and the heavy base ensured even cooking. The non-stick coating had the box-fresh silkiness you would expect and yes, I had no trouble turning food with little or no fat.

So, here are the design features:



The handle
  • Feels very solid and secure to the pan
  • Easy to use with one click
  • Clicks with a very reassuring noise 
  • I did have concerns about handle damaging the non-stick coating

Spacesaver list
  • Storage is so much easier with the pans stacked one inside another without the handle (my pan drawer before and after, shown above)
  • No handles mean it is less cumbersome when using all the burners on the hob
  • Lids store flat as the butterfly style handles flatten
  • So much more dishwasher friendly as you can realistically fit the pans and lids in 

Design bonus
  • Saucepans and frying pans can be placed in the oven without the handles
  • You can get the food out of the oven with a guaranteed cold handle!
  • If you serve direct to the table, the handle-less look is a nicer
  • You can use metal on the non stick coating (no whisks or knives)
  • You don't have the food build up around the handle rivets that is difficult to clean
  • The Thermo-Spot lets you know when the pan has reached optimal cooking temperature
  • The surface is so easy to clean, I've actually used the larger pans to roast meat and potatoes or do bakes in the oven. I dare say it would also make for a decent cake tin too.

Negatives
  • Although clever, I'm not a fan of the look of the lids. Glass lids have never appealed to me for some reason and the rubber around the glass doesn't look secure, although turns out it is.
  • I did find myself getting annoyed when I needed to move the pan quickly and had to hunt out a handle. 


Testing
I've been using this set solidly for over a month now, putting my regular pans into storage. I have very few negative comments really, they have been very nice to cook with and I thought I would miss my stainless steel set but so far haven't looked back! The only pan I really do need is my huge pasta pot for a crowd.


All the food I've fried, boiled, stewed and roasted has cooked well and they are particularly good for use in the oven, far better than my enamel trays which I have to spend an age scrubbing afterward.

I really wish I had these years ago as my first flat was tiny. The kitchen was in a little nook and storage was very minimal (like, two cuboards!) and these pans would have been an absolute lifesaver. But even now with a bit more space (not much - this is Brighton) these really appeal to the neat freak in me. I love how they stack!

I will be updating this review in 6 months or so. If I'm honest, the handle gripper scratching the non-stick coating continues to worry me so will be interesting to see how these hold up and if there is any damage.

Until then...



I was sent the Tefal Ingenio pan set for review. Opinions, as always, are my own.

PRODUCT REVIEW: The Saucy Fish Co. and being a CoolBrand


The Saucy Fish Co. have now been recognised as one of the few cherry picked companies named as a "CoolBrand". Other CoolBrands (selected by consumers and an expert council of er, cool people including fashion designers, actors and musicians I'm too old to recognise) include Apple, Courvoisier, Lavazza, Nars and Stella McCartney. TSFC. are the first and only fish brand to have made it on the list of predominantly premium fashion and technology brands.

Now it's not everyday that prepared food is classed as cool (and we are not talking the Iceland aisle sort of cool) but the TSFC is testament to great design, smart branding as well as a good product. I've been a big fan of the packaging (designed by one of my favourite agencys Elmwood) for a number of years. The copywriting is also very sweet "Easy peasy and we definitely recommend a little lemon squeezy", "Set sail for the dock at www.thesaucefish...".

But the proof is in the eating as they say and I was sent a few products to give a whirl in the kitchen.



Salmon fishcakes and Smoked haddock fishcakes
These fishcakes were pretty good, nicely balanced with just about enough fish to potato ratio. They contain a "saucy centre" (the salmon having a Hollandaise and the haddock a molten cheddar centre) which were good for novelty value, I may even steal that one for my fishcake recipe. As fishcakes are a mini meal in themselves, I just racked my intake of vegetables up as a side to them.



Smoked Haddock in a Vintage Cheddar & Chive Sauce
Fish and cheese is a big no-no in Italian cooking so this was a cultural challenge for me. (God help you if you sprinkle Parmesan on your spaghetti vongole!) But the mellow cheese sauce and smokiness of the fish, I hate to admit, was a good one. (It's ok, I'll just say three extra Hail Mary's in church this Sunday.) This was a foil bake bag format that you sling in the oven, which is undeniably convenient, and fish baked in a parcel is always more succulent.


Tuna Steaks with a sweet soy and chilli dressing
I was dubious about pouring a dressing over tuna steaks already heavily seasoned with spices and peppers but these steaks were just fantastic. The dressing (soy, chilli, rice wine, mirin, lemon ginger and star anise) just married up the steaks with the simple noodle and vegetable stir fry I served them with. We were very impressed with the flavour combination here which was powerful but still allowed the tuna to shine through. Spot on.



Squid, King Prawn and Chorizo with a Sherry and Herb Sauce
This didn't really hit the mark for us. The flavours were quite flat and the portion was tiny, despite being quite calorific. As everything was in one bag you couldn't control the cooking time for each item. The chorizo I would have cooked more and the squid, far, far less. Which was a shame as the seafood itself was really good quality.


Fish remains one food stuff that consumers still fear, yet really, it's one of the healthiest, easiest and quickest things to prepare. But if you are not one for wrestling a whole turbot with a filleting knife then The Saucy Fish Co. is a good product, with pre-seasoning and sachets of sauce to complete a meal. There isn't too much to be worried about in the ingredients and nothing scarily chemical at all. The hybrid between ready meal and raw product is a very keen market as people are becoming more interested in cooking which I think has made The Saucy Fish Co. so successful. And anything that gets people cooking is pretty cool to me.

For the keen cook, like me, you may find the products a little restrictive. I felt unable to add to much to the products myself as they were already prepared, but there is no denying the convenience of these and from the limited prepared food I've come across, these products were certainly a notch or twenty above them, gorgeous branding or not.


Many thanks to The Saucy Fish Co. for the hamper of products to review. Opinions, as always, are my own. 

REVIEW: Velo Cafe, Brighton



This isn't going to be a pretty story. To be honest, it's been a while since I've felt the need to upturn furniture in a restaurant but luckily the tables at Velo are very, very heavy.

Sat in prime position at the heart of the rejuvenated Level development, sandwiched between one of Brighton's most creative children's play areas (nice one Council!) and a brilliant skate park, the Velo cycling cafe captures a bounty of passing trade in it's greedy net. The cafe itself is well designed with a great outside area and pretty much everything about it is wonderful. Apart from the food and service speed it seems. After a Tweet of annoyance, my notification feed came piling in with similar comments. My work colleagues have given it a few shots, always returning late from their break and moaning about prices.



The menu has been streamlined. Well, there didn't seem to be any menu, just what was available in the display; a couple of salads, some sandwiches, a sausage roll. That sort of thing. There is a children's menu which compromises of an uninspired sandwich selection, drink and fruit. Oh and there's a pizza list.



The salad I ordered, with fridge cold strips of watery courgette, tinned chickpeas, an apologetic dressing of harrisa, a few herbs and lemon juice at £6.75 had to be returned. The lack of flavour was almost impressive. Staff were nice enough about the return, and in general were very polite if painfully slow.



My replacement sandwich (£4.75) was, a sandwich. Nice enough but it's the one thing I never order out. I'll describe it to you just to lengthen the food review a bit. Luckily the bread was good...um...they had spread it with butter, the cheddar was ok, the relish was ok (no doubt from a jar) and the rocket was a bit sad. There you go. A sandwich review.

Velo have been making a big deal about their new offering of pizza. I should have known better but darn it, I had to feed my kid and at £4.95, I'll give it a pop. 30 minutes later, with a hangry toddler on my hands, I went to enquire about this darn pizza. Clearly in the time taken they were making the base fresh from a nice sourdough, seasoning the homemade sauce and lovingly topping it with quality ingredients.


Nope. It was a case of mum's been to Iceland. The base was one of those processed, and I guess, frozen jobs, a perfect flat circle of dense doughy blandness. If they had topped the thing themselves then they had excelled at arranging the grated processed mozzarella mix and sauce as per those cheap supermarket pizzas. A few cherry tomatoes had been thrown on for pizazz. THIRTY minutes people and busy they were not.

I'm amid a pizza review of Brighton and Hove and this was up there with the worst. Mainly through lack of effort with the creation and ingredients. No idea if the adult versions are the same, I pray to Italy they are not. Anyway, my kid, used to a decent meal, ate half of the tiny thing through hunger before ditching it and I'll continue feeling guilty about feeding it to him.

Attracting primarily family, and I assume, health conscious cycling clientele, Velo really should be making an effort to provide fresh, nourishing and varied food. I'm thinking the sort of salads and wholesome food on offer at some of our better cafes. Maybe a decent burger, hell, a decent pizza. Local meat, local fish...we have it all. Christ knows what they are using all that kitchen space for, extra bike storage maybe?

But why bother, eh? The people will come with their hungry families from the park, and the droves of people will pop in for a lunch and never come back. 

Pack a picnic, grab a blanket and pop yourself down on the grass and tell this cafe to get on its bike unless it ups its game.

Velo Cafe
The Level, Brighton BN1 4ZN