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Monday, 6 May 2013

Burgers, bloody burgers


Big, fat, juicy burgers.

I bloody love them.

I remember my first burger. It was 1987. I was seven years old, sat with my bare legs stuck to the pastel coloured swirly plastic booth in the newly opened Wimpy in Llandudno. The overly sweet bun, the microthin beef burger pattie, the bright orange sticky cheese square, the pickle that I picked out and rested on the greasy paper wrapper. I loved it. I loved it so much a couple of months later I had my 8th birthday party there where a meet and greet with the big plastic red Mr Wimpy was included. And my love affair with burgers began.

Oh the mighty burger.

Burgers have been omnipresent in my life. I've eaten them at my happiest times, most sad times, drunk, sober. home, away. They're my comfort food of choice.

Oh the mighty burger.

The post festival burger in a motorway service station with your best friends, stinking, mud covered, sleep deprived and ravenous. Now that's a good burger.

The burger concoctions made whilst working for a fast food chain on a high speed ferry crossing the Irish sea in the last summer of my teens, taken upstairs to a hidden storeroom high above the passenger areas with a little hatch you could crawl through to sit on the actual roof of the ferry to eat your bespoke  burger in absolute silence speeding through the Irish sea. That's a special burger.

The multiple burgers you eat with your best friend sat in fast food car parks in a battered Renault Clio listening to Beck on repeat, playing guess the RDA% of different burgers (the winner, if you're interested is the McDonalds Big Tasty Burger which has a prize 76% of your RDA of fat). Fast food queens, graduated from University, no responsibilities, no real jobs, days spent just cruising around eating burgers because frankly, we had nothing better (apart from get drunk) to do. Yes, those were good burgers.

The burger purchased from a battered VW van with a hatch on rickety sticks, served by two scruffy, half pissed men with filthy fingernails at the Big Chill festival one year. An unexpected bloody triumph. Simple, red in the middle, a dead nice bun, some rocket, a little bit of coleslaw, proper cheese. Sat on the grass in the sun, chomping that and listening to the Craig Charles Soul Funk band feeling generally pretty blinking happy with life. Yep, I enjoyed that one.

Oh the mighty burger.

So, what happens when the mighty fall? Well, they fall. And they can fall pretty badly.

I was in hospital after giving birth to my first daughter. I'd been awake and not eaten for 72 hours. I'd been injected with obscene amounts of opiates. I had just had a baby. Everything felt a bit odd. Eventually, the opium haze began to lift and I realised I was STARVING. So starving that I literally drooled over the hospital menu on which I had to tick boxes with my choices for that day. For tea, I picked 'Steak Vinennese'.

I actually expected steak. In hospital.

 I know, I know, what was I thinking?

Look, I was sleep deprived, traumatised and had the residue of hundreds of pounds street value of synthetic heroin in my body. I clearly wasn't thinking straight.

It arrived. I frantically and hungrily lifted the plate cover. I could have eaten a horse. And then I probably did. A grey, limp pattie with added gristle lay with curled up edges in a swamp of murky, oily gravy. It was lukewarm. Tepid. I'd managed to give birth, have a haemmorage, a host of doctors prodding and stitching me, I managed all that without shedding a tear but the sight of that pathetic excuse for a burger, well that finished me off. I wept.

But lets not dwell on the sad times. Lets celebrate the ace times, the awesome burgers. The juicy, fat ones. The ones with a melting brie middle, the Obama party burgers barbequed in the dark one October lovingly crafted around a mini babybel, the chorizo burger with sundried tomato mayonnaise, the burger with crispy salami and vintage cheddar and gherkin, the Elvis burgers, the mushroom double Swiss,  the side order of a plain cheeseburger, the ones consumed at parties, at good times, with family, with friends, the sliders at a buffet, the mustardy burgers, the chicken fillet burgers wolfed down at 4am, all the burgers that made me feel ace.

So where do you go for your burgers? What makes them special? Who makes the best burger in Liverpool?

For me, it's a newly opened independent resturant.

I bring you the joy of Free State Kitchen.

I somehow started following these people on Twitter before the restaurant opened and after a particularily heavy day at Onion, home late to an empty fridge we took ourselves off here for our tea in their first week of opening. It's an amazing place - hidden away on Maryland Street in an old convent school with a simple but bloody delicious American style menu. I went for a classic American cheeseburger and it was spectacular. So many places now seem scared of serving their burgers rare but this one was suitably red. Not piled high with a million toppings, you were left just to enjoy its flavour and a bloody good flavour it was too. It's the best burger I can remember having. I look forward to spending a good many afternoons with my burger loving family and friends supping cold bottles of Samuel Adams and eating their delicious burgers in the awesome garden there in the summer. Go there.  And order a burger. You won't be sorry. Promise.

So yes. Burgers.







All hail the mighty burger.

*burgers can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet*

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


I used to be rubbish at Brownies.

I only went for the haute couture, much longed for 1980's Brownies uniform consisting of shapeless brown long sleeve dress with a pale lemon neckerchief. Besides, I didn't even get a new one; my parents (on the second child, wise to whims and fanciful Brownie do-gooder notions) made me wear my sister's old one that wasn't even brown, more a washed out beige.

Suffice to say; Brownies, like Sunday school (my parents are athiests), St Johns Ambulance training, learning the Tuba and various other childhood things that I DEFINTELY was going to stick at didn't last very long and so my relationship with the Brownies was put to bed, neatly tucked up alongside religion, life saving and Tuba playing, seemingly forever.


I tasted my first Chocolate Brownie.

What the hell?

I was actually 29 years old.

I know, I know, it's a bit like admitting being the 40 year old virgin. But like the 40 year old virgin, once I had a taste for them there was simply no stopping me. I became a coquette of anything square and chocolately, a jezebel of brownie consumption. I bought and ate them wherever I could - cafes, restaurants, bakeries, trains, fast food restuaurants, corner shops... I ate them all.

I hungrily ate them EVERYWHERE.

And now, well now I know what kind of Brownie I like.

I know what kind of Brownie I don't like.

I baked lots of Brownies. Complex recipes, easy recipes, throw it all in the bowl recipes. Squidgey gooey ones, crispy ones, cakey ones. I baked them ALL.

So now ladies and gentlemen I present to you the best Brownie recipe of all. It's not mine, but it's the best I've found. And because life is all about sharing, here it is:

Orlando Murrin's Best Ever Brownies

  • 185g unsalted butter
  • 185g best dark chocolate
  • 85g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 50g white chocolate
  • 50g milk chocolate
  • 3 large eggs
  • 275g golden caster sugar


  1. Cut 185g unsalted butter into smallish cubes and tip into a medium bowl. Break 185g best dark chocolate into small pieces and drop into the bowl. Fill a small saucepan about a quarter full with hot water, then sit the bowl on top so it rests on the rim of the pan, not touching the water. Put over a low heat until the butter and chocolate have melted, stirring occasionally to mix them. Now remove the bowl from the pan. Alternatively, cover the bowl loosely with cling film and put in the microwave for 2 minutes on High. Leave the melted mixture to cool to room temperature.
  2. While you wait for the chocolate to cool, position a shelf in the middle of your oven and turn the oven on to fan 160C/conventional 180C/gas 4 (most ovens take 10-15 minutes to heat up). Using a shallow 20cm square tin, cut out a square of non-stick baking parchment to line the base. Now tip 85g plain flour and 40g cocoa powder into a sieve held over a medium bowl, and tap and shake the sieve so they run through together and you get rid of any lumps.
  3. With a large sharp knife, chop 50g white chocolate and 50g milk chocolate into chunks on a board. The slabs of chocolate will be quite hard, so the safest way to do this is to hold the knife over the chocolate and press the tip down on the board, then bring the rest of the blade down across the chocolate. Keep on doing this, moving the knife across the chocolate to chop it into pieces, then turn the board round 90 degrees and again work across the chocolate so you end up with rough squares.
  4. Break 3 large eggs into a large bowl and tip in 275g golden caster sugar. With an electric mixer on maximum speed, whisk the eggs and sugar until they look thick and creamy, like a milk shake. This can take 3-8 minutes, depending on how powerful your mixer is, so don't lose heart. You'll know it's ready when the mixture becomes really pale and about double its original volume. Another check is to turn off the mixer, lift out the beaters and wiggle them from side to side. If the mixture that runs off the beaters leaves a trail on the surface of the mixture in the bowl for a second or two, you're there.
  5. Pour the cooled chocolate mixture over the eggy mousse, then gently fold together with a rubber spatula. Plunge the spatula in at one side, take it underneath and bring it up the opposite side and in again at the middle. Continue going under and over in a figure of eight, moving the bowl round after each folding so you can get at it from all sides, until the two mixtures are one and the colour is a mottled dark brown. The idea is to marry them without knocking out the air, so be as gentle and slow as you like - you don't want to undo all the work you did in step 4.
  6. Hold the sieve over the bowl of eggy chocolate mixture and resift the cocoa and flour mixture, shaking the sieve from side to side, to cover the top evenly. Gently fold in this powder using the same figure of eight action as before. The mixture will look dry and dusty at first, and a bit unpromising, but if you keep going very gently and patiently, it will end up looking gungy and fudgy. Stop just before you feel you should, as you don't want to overdo this mixing. Finally, stir in the white and milk chocolate chunks until they're dotted throughout. Now your mixing is done and the oven can take over.
  7. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, scraping every bit out of the bowl with the spatula. Gently ease the mixture into the corners of the tin and paddle the spatula from side to side across the top to level it. Put in the oven and set your timer for 25 minutes. When the buzzer goes, open the oven, pull the shelf out a bit and gently shake the tin. If the brownie wobbles in the middle, it's not quite done, so slide it back in and bake for another 5 minutes until the top has a shiny, papery crust and the sides are just beginning to come away from the tin. Take out of the oven.
  8. fiLeave the whole thing in the tin until completely cold, then, if you're using the brownie tin, lift up the protruding rim slightly and slide the uncut brownie out on its base. If you're using a normal tin, lift out the brownie with the foil. Cut into quarters, then cut each quarter into four squares and finally into triangles. These brownies are so addictive you'll want to make a second batch before the first is finished, but if you want to make some to hide away for a special occasion, it's useful to know that they'll keep in an airtight container for a good two weeks and in the freezer for up to a month.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Malteser meringues aren't for the faint hearted. Word.

I'm a girl. Technically I'm supposed to love chocolate. Well I just don't. I like it. A bit.

I can't eat a whole bar of chocolate, not ever. It makes me feel sick. I could eat a whole block of cheese, three packets of Starburst, a multipack of corn based snacks and drink a whole bottle of wine but a single chocolate bar? No. Which means that I have to do something with the vast amounts of chocolate knocking around the Onion household following the selection box frenzy that was Christmas.

So I started today. I stuck two fingers up at the January diet, fat free soup brigade and launched into some hefty baking involving a lot of sugar. And it felt good.

Sweet things allegedly release happy chemicals in the brain. If this is the case then these sticky, sweet meringue treats are the equivalent of all all night rave in a darkened warehouse. Be warned.

Malteser meringues with chocolate ganache and malteser cream

For the meringues.
4 organic egg whites
115g caster sugar
115g icing sugar
teaspoon white wine vinegar
teaspoon vanilla extract
1 packet of Maltesers

For the chocolate ganache
100g good quality dark/plain chocolate
4 tbsp double cream

For the malteser cream
300ml double cream
1 pack maltesers

  • Preheat the oven to 140/gas mark 1
  • Lightly oil a flat baking tray, line with greaseproof paper and lightly oil the greaseproof as well.
  • In a very clean bowl whisk together the egg whites with the caster sugar until stiff. This usually takes at least 3 minutes
  • Add the icing sugar, vinegar and vanilla extract and whisk again for another 3o seconds or so until glossy.
  • Crush a packet of Maltersers in a bag with a rolling pin and then gently fold in to the meringue mixture.
  • Spoon onto the prepared baking sheets swirling around with the back of a spoon and bake for 45 minutes.
  • Turn off the oven and open the door, leaving it open for another 10 mins for the meringues to gently cool in the oven.
  • Carefully lift out the meringues to finish cooling on a rack
For the Ganache
Simmer some water in a pan with a heatproof bowl on top. Add 100g plain or dark chocolate stirring gently to melt.
Add 4 tablespoons of double cream and stir into the melted chocolate. Put to one side to cool slightly.

For the Malteser cream
Whip the cream until thick and add a packet of crushed maltesers.

Now all you have to do is sandwich the meringues together with the chocolate ganache and whipped malteser cream. And die happy. You little raver.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The best fried egg sandwich in the world......

My sister is five years older than me. The perfect age gap. A five year age gap as teenagers means you don't argue, not much. The older one is too concerned with 'older' stuff to bother fighting with the little sister and the little sister is trying too hard to impress the big sister to fight at all. Perfect. Having a sister five years older than me also meant that I looked up to her and thought that whatever she did was what I should do (apart from that dodgy perm in 1991). Some examples:

She loved Prince. A lot. She played his music. All the time. Which meant that I had to listen to it all the time. Which meant that I loved him too. Which was probably why I was the only 12 year old singing all the lyrics to 'Get Off' in the Youth Club disco without quite understanding the full meaning of what I was saying whilst wondering why the rampant 15 year old boy I had a crush on was suddenly so interested. Thanks Annie.

Drinking and smoking.
She was cool. Very cool. Her friends were in bands. She took me on magic mushroom picking outings (many hands make light work) before I even knew what magic mushrooms were. Our house became the house where her and all her trendy friends would hang out, eat pasta, drink wine and smoke Marlboro Lights when they were supposed to be in school. Which inevitably became what I wanted to do too and which sometimes, rarely but magically she let me join her and her gang. Cheers Annie.

Fried Egg sandwiches.
When I was 12 she went away with her friends (3 boys naturally) to Greece for a holiday. Instead of choosing a resort packed with drunken British teenagers vomiting all over the streets after drinking cocktails named after sex positions they chose a picturesque ancient village where they stayed in a whitewashed apartment, drank in authentic Greek bars and adopted a three legged dog. She came back beautiful and bronzed and talked me through the (censored) photographs. I was impressed by their apartment and wondered if they cooked there. It turned out the only thing they cooked in the apartment was Fried egg sandwiches. I had never eaten a fried egg sandwich and so to me, from that day on, Fried egg sandwiches became cool. In my twelve year old mind I didn't connect them to greasy spoons. I connected them with chic teenagers, drinking wine, smoking Marlboro Lights with an adopted three legged dog in a whitewashed Greek apartment in an ancient village. And I've loved them ever since. So look, it's not Michelin starred cookery here but I give you:

The perfect Fried egg sandwich

1 egg
2 slices of handcut bakery bread buttered with real butter
Some grated vintage cheddar
Sliced gherkin
Finely sliced red onion
Sweet chilli sauce
Thinly sliced tomato.

Butter the bread
Heat some vegetable oil and a small knob of butter in a frying pan and crack in the egg.
Fry until a little bit crispy underneath and then flip for 2 seconds so that no gloopy white remains.
Place fried egg on buttered bread and sprinkle the cheese on. (This is important, you want the cheese to slightly melt from the heat of the egg!)
Top with gherkin, sliced tomato and onion and pour a little drizzle of sweet chilli sauce over it.

So there you have it. The very best Fried egg sandwich in the world. Fact.

Don't thank me. Thank my sister.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

It's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

I love Christmas. A lot.

I have a slight issue with it being a finite time though. I find it difficult to deal with. It's a bit like a holiday romance. You keep trying not to fall in love but you can't help it. And then you realise it's too late, you've fallen in love and it's time to go home and you're at the airport crying into your pint of over priced warm lager. And deep down you know its over. Until next year.

This is how I feel about Christmas. I let myself fall in love with it every year. I get swept away with the twinkling lights, the rich food, the 80's movies and endless booze on tap. And every year I get hurt when it goes away for a whole other year. So rather than sit here and cry into my glass of Alka Seltzer I'll reminisce. I'll remember the good times. In no particular order:

Christmas on vinyl.
Mr Onion came back from town with a haul of Christmas records. Tijuana Christmas, Band Aid, Wham, Frank Sinatra, Elvis sings Christmas. Within hours my lovely shop neighbour 'Guitar shop John' had set up a record player and oversized amp in the corner of Onion. Ah, Christmas had arrived.

Stalbridge Christmas.
I am blessed. Not only are my friends amazing in most ways, they also know how to cook, eat, drink and be merry. We get together at Cheese man's house every Christmas for an orgy of food, wine and any other booze we can get our greasy paws on. Last year it was Goose and so much booze that many of us barely remember the meal. This year was more refined. We tucked into the biggest Rib of Beef that I have ever seen, creamed cabbage and sprouts, carrots with cumin, crunchy as hell roast potatoes and some towering Yorkshire puds. God, it was good. We danced badly to Christmas tunes, drank the house dry, argued about whether Miranda was any good and got told off by my four year old spring onion for being way too noisy. The bonus? Waking up the next day hangover free. Unlike some of the others who report stopping to throw up in various laybys up and down the country on the way to family homes. Bloody lightweights.

The big day
Look, it doesn't have to snow on Christmas day to be a white Christmas, as long as snow is on the ground then I'm happy. And a perfect day it was too. I went through a phase for the last few years of being a Christmas control freak. This basically entailed making my family come to my house and doing things 'my way'. Goose not turkey. Shredded sprouts not whole. Anyway, I gave the baton back to my wonderful parents this year and had the best Christmas day we've had in years. The shredded sprouts stayed, the goose went. Result - spending precious time with my lovely parents, sister and her family and my very own family too eating a magnificent Christmas dinner instead of spending the whole morning in the kitchen and drinking too much champagne. Us kids did the washing up and the grandparents got to play with the kids high on e numbers. We walked home, the spring onion rode her new retro red bike. We saw three people in shorts and a man on crack.

Boxing day
Woke up to noises of the spring onion trying to rebuild a flattened box in my bedroom. The reason? 'It's Boxing Day mummy'.
I love Boxing day. A s a child it is the day where your parents leave you alone to play with your toys in peace. As an adult it is the day where you can truly relax, especially when you are going to someone elses house for the party. This year we went to the Batmen's house. It's quite strange really. Mr Onion's brother fell in love with my sister's best friend from school and now we all live in the same city and so get to play all together on occasions like this. It's top. We had a pate off, dipped cold roast potatoes into cold bread sauce and accidentally booked a table at Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons after drinking too much white wine.

The time in between.
Drinking fizzy pop watching Karate kid, making cushions with my daughter, reading in bed, Mr Onion making me hazlenut lattes every morning, watching Agatha Christie adaptations on TV, playing with lego, croissants, continental breakfast with ham boiled in Coca Cola, falling asleep on the couch waking up with my face stuck to the leather with drool. Having and making no plans..... God I love Christmas.

New Year's Eve
The original plan - go to a bunkhouse far far away with friends where we can do what we want and make as much noise as we want leaving the spring onion in the the trusted care of my parents.
The actual plan - Have a couple of people over for civilised food and drinks, keeping the spring onion with us
The actual (amended) plan - as above but leaving the spring onion in the trusted care of my parents. The company was great as was the food - marinated chicken kebabs, prawns with chilli and garlic, feta and roast veg tart (made by my gorgeous friend who claims to be a crap cook but pulls out the stops every time), prunes stuffed with mascarpone and wrapped in bacon, asparagus, parma ham and pecorino, crispy pork belly squares (Marks and Spencer and actually really good), tortilla, olives, sunblushed tomatoes, bread...a veritable feast indeed.

Those of you with offspring may agree. It can be dangerous to have an overnight babysitter. It is like the pre offspring days. Only much worse. Because you go crazy. Because it is such a luxury to wake up and to only have to worry about yourself. So you go mental. Which is why the civilised food and drink evening ended in madness and why I had to cancel my family coming around to my house for New Years Day lunch and instead, as soon as I finished being sick in the bath had to go to my parents with my head hung low and ask my mum to make me some toast.

And now it's over. Christmas. New Year. Both now in the past tense. Both great. I knew it would come to an end. And it did. Many great things do. So here I am. Sat in my unChristmassy living room, my bare beloved tree cold and brittle in the Christmas tree graveyard in the park, the decorations already in the attic. The Christmas vinyl has been put away, the neat little piles of presents transferred and dispersed into various rooms. My holiday romance over. And God it was good. As a wise man once said, 'it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all'.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

I'm not going to drink it. Honestly.

In between my house and my shop there is a Tesco.

Ah, Tesco. Love them or hate them they exist. Everywhere.


And while I try to not buy things from them I just can't help it. And this can be a problem. Running the type of place that makes healthy, fresh food with some organic things on the shelves people make assumptions about me, one being that I am a wholefood, organic brown rice loving, healthy, Tesco hating vegetarian.

I like whole food. I have enjoyed organic brown rice a couple of times, and I mean a couple. I don't love Tesco but I still shop there and I'm certainly not a vegetarian unless you count my brief flirtation with vegetarianism in 1997 for around 2.4 hours until my school canteen won me over with a chicken pie (it was chicken mince in a grey gravy - wrong, but so very right).

So yes, people can get it wrong. And while I don't pretend to be a wholefood, organic Tesco hating vegetarian I do think people think of me in a certain way. Which can be difficult when you live in a smallish suburb community where everyone pretty much knows each other and shops in the same Tesco while pretending not to.

Tesco - the place not to be at 3.57pm on a Sunday afternoon with a basket of Fish fingers, Birds Eye potato waffles, tesco value baked means and two tubes of Pringles. Not when the person who was asking you how to make Broccoli and Brie soup two days previously is in the queue behind you.

Tesco - the place not to be at 7.47am trying to buy bottles of Real Ale and getting knocked back because they don't have a licence until 8am. Pretty embarrassing when the leader of the school mum brigade who come in for Danish pastries at 9.08am every Thursday is in the queue behind you buying a loaf of (probably organic) brown bread for her daughter's sandwiches.

It wasn't just booze I was buying. Oh no, there were carrots, potatoes, swede, parsnips - the makings of a pretty delicious stew.

Till lady -'I can't serve you with this'
Me 'With what?'
Till lady - 'Alcohol, drink, booze.'
Me 'Ah you mean the Cains FA?
Till lady 'Whatever, it's too early to serve alcohol. We don't have a licence until 8am'
At this point I was shocked. What the hell was I doing in Tesco before 8 o'clock in the bloody morning?
Me -'Oh, I didn't realise it was so early. Um, what time is it exactly?'
Till lady '7.47'
Me - Oh. I'll just take the other stuff for now then. The ingredients for stew. A stew made with Real Ale. I'm not going to drink it. Honestly. I'm making a stew you see. You know, with Real Ale. It's nice. Really nice. The stew I mean. Not the ale. Although the ale is nice too, y'know, in the stew.
Till lady - Next.

So I stood there. The girl from onion. Waiting for 8am. To buy booze. Waiting. Exposed. The fraudster. The faker. Caught out. In community killing Tesco. With my over packaged capitalist genetically modified vegetables sweating in my non biodegradeable plastic environment killing carrier bags. Waiting to buy booze on the school run.

Friday, 12 November 2010

I'd quite like to smell beautiful.

I love working with food. Always have. Probably always will.

There is however a major downfall. You never, ever get to finish work smelling beautiful. Basically you smell of hotdogs. We don't even sell hotdogs. Every night when I get home from work after spending the day rustling up glorious salads, baking delicious cakes and making fresh soups I smell myself. Do I smell like fresh basil, fresh mint, warm vanilla sponge? No. I smell like hotdogs.

A trip to the shops after work can be embarrassing. The coiffed beauty that smells of of Japanese musk in the queue in front of you in Tesco turns around because she wonders where the in-store hotdog cook off is. The man with the stylish glasses and record bag won't sit next to you on the bus even though it would make it easier to play whatever game he's playing on his i phone. The taxi driver driving you to the pub for sneaky after work drinks tells you he hopes you're not going on a date because you smell like you work in a hotdog van. The scenarios are endless.

So... A plea. Next time you finish work smelling like roses and then get a taxi straight to meet your other gorgeous smelling friends in the pub; spare a thought for me, the onion girl sitting alone on the bus smelling of hotdogs.