Tuesday, 5 March 2013

REVIEW: The Bull, Ditchling

The low-down for parents and kids 
Highchairs: Stokke HandySitt chairs, very clean.
Kid's menu: Full, varied children's menu. Good healthy options.
Baby change facilities: Yes.
Room for buggies: Limited (but you'll probably drive and leave it in the car).

The Bull in Ditchling is lovely. One of those pubs that smells of old wood but has moved with the times to satisfy modern rural pub goers. It's a good example of a historic pub that has had a sympathetic facelift, with modern touches compementing the old. Somewhere that would appeal to all ages. Comfortable with a hint of luxury about it, y'know? It's a tricky one to get right, and so many get it wrong, but the Bull storms it*.

And everyone agrees because when we arrived at midday on Sunday for a roast, it was already rather busy. Seeing as you can't book for Sunday lunch, it's really worth getting there on the early side to secure a good spot. Staff don't seem to be hell bent on turning tables (thankfully) so you may have to endure a bit of a wait. There is talk of extending the pub into an adjoining building which would help but for now I'm sure you could find something to do in the bar area!

Anyway, I'm not one for starters before roasts so we launched straight into the main event. My chicken supreme was soft, soft, soooooooft. So good I stupidly let Baby Foodie try it and he pestered me until I gave him over half of it. Critter. The 5 baby carrots, all stood up, were sweet touch, although some would argue contrived, but I think the concept here is to offer something a little different or an element of surprise as the powers that be here are clearly keen on details. Cabbage was nicely acidically spiked and the firm slice of stuffing aromatic. The only thing I would say, which was a shame, was the plate was cold so the gravy, having been made properly with the fats, congealed unappealingly on the side but thankfully didn't ruin the dish.

Around the table, as per mine, the beef (two nice thick slices) and the pork belly went down a treat. The belly could have been cooked a touch longer as that would have help render the fat down further and made the meat more tender but it was a thick ol' slab of it.

Those wanting that borderline grotesque pile up of a pub Sunday lunch may be disappointed but I think portions and vegetable variety were spot on (and as you know I'm greedy), and what you got was good quality which I'd take over the former any day. Best bit is that it left room for desserts and room they should be given.

Personally, I only got as far as the first option on the menu as it was written for me. Pistachio and Olive Oil cake with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. They must have known I was coming. The vivid green line of crunchy pistachio crumbs, soft, crubly cake and sticky caramel sauce were a fantastic combination of textures and really beautiful flavours. Seriously, I could have given a Sunday sermon on it. I really don't like overly sweet desserts, certainly not after a roast, and this was one gorgeous grown up treat.

And how pretty is the Rubabrb and Apple Pie (top picture)? Tasted lovely too, great hit of just-right sharpness from the rubabrb toned town with the Calvados Creme Anglaise.

I'd think that the cheeseboard would be worth a try, although only featuring only one local on there (Sussex Charmer). But seeing as I've now tried most of our (fantastic) local cheeses, the Burwash Rose (washed in rose water), Afterburn Cheddar (exactly what you are thinking) and the Flower Rose Sheep's cheese (love, love sheep's milk cheese) would be a nice taste journey around the UK. Maybe next time.

Roasts were priced around the £12-13 mark which is pretty good value for the quality and in comparison to others in the area.

Staff were great. Friendly, professional, smart. None of that teenage weekend staff malarky. Baby Foodie was welcomed and they have those nice Stokke HandySitt booster chairs so he could sit right up to the table. There's a children's menu available with decent, proper food options for them too.

As Sunday roasts tend to be more of a laid back affair for proper "gastro-pubs" this has left me really wanting to try out more off the standard weekday menu at the Bull. If you want to get out of Brighton but don't want to travel far, the Bull is a stellar option.

The Bull Ditchling
2 High St Ditchling, West Sussex BN6 8TA
01273 843147
*Apart from the scary frosted glass loo cubicles becasue i was wearing a particularly high-contrast outfit and noone like peeing with an unesy feeling, hear me?

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

RECIPE: Carrot & Apricot Baby Muffins

Now Baby Foodie is a little older, I am a little more relaxed about what he eats (not THAT relaxed though, controlled fun is what I'm about!). So as a little treat every now and then, I like to give him one of these super-light baby cakes. They freeze down really well so you can be quite reserved with them. The apricots give the muffins a nice little caramel taste and also help with the sweetness, meaning you need less sugar. Bonus.

Makes 15-18 baby muffins

50ml vegetable oil (plus a little extra if greasing the tins)
1 egg, beaten
100g grated carrot
60g finely chopped dried apricots (ready to eat version)
100g self raising flour
50g light brown sugar
Level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Grease a baby/mini muffin or line with cases.

Put the oil, egg, grated carrot and apricots into a mixing bowl and stir until well combined.

Add the flour sugar and bicarbonate of soda, stirring well.

Put the mixture into the prepared baby/mini muffin tin and bake at 180C/350C/Gas 4 for 10 minutes. Test the cakes by making sure a knife comes out clean when inserted into the cake.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

RECIPE: Pork and Apple Patties

Baby Foodie is getting himself quite an independent streak of late and nowhere more so than at the table. Sometimes he just wants to be a big boy and feed himself, turning his nose up at spoon feeding. So we have embraced more finger foods. These little patties are moist and sweet. I serve them up with some steamed vegetable sticks and halved cherry tomatoes.

Makes 6 mini patties  | Freezable | Use within 3 months

1 tbsp Olive oil
100g Pork mince
Half an apple, grated
Quarter of an onion, very finely chopped
Half teaspoon dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl put all of the ingredients apart from the olive oil and mix thoroughly with your hands, really squashing the mince up so it's nice and smooth.

Divide the mixture into 6 and form into little patty/burger shapes.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the patties and cook on a medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until thoroughly cooked through.

Leave the patties to cool enough to handle before serving. Two are normally enough with other finger foods.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

SHOPPING: Play Kitchens

One of my most memorable toys was my little kitchenette. I adored it and there is still nothing I enjoy more than playing in my now grown-up kitchen. They can be expensive but a play kitchen has a lot of hours play in them. Here are some of my favourites:


Santoys folding portable cooker, £35


Brio black stove, £35


KidKraft Uptown Espresso Kitchen, £130


Janod BBQ Trolley, £62.50

For the boys (although any of these would be great for the little fellas)

MaMaMeMo Kitchen


KidKraft Let's Cook Together
, £136


Le Toy Van Honeybake Oven and Hob Role-Play Set, £60

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

REVIEW: The Chilli Pickle Canteen (take away)

I suppose one of the things I miss most about being a new parent is eating out as much. My bank statement looks like I've been on a year long diet, previously being made up of long lunches, evenings spent gorging oneself by candlelight and er, shoe purchases. And although my hips thank me for it, I do miss feeding my greed. (I still buy good shoes.)

Whilst dining out hasn't entirely been eradicated and is creeping back more and more, it does make you more selective, which is good, but it does mean you miss out on trips your old faithfuls not wanting to miss out the latest hot young thing on the restaurant scene with your precious night-off token. And one old faithful I dearly miss is my number one place to eat in Brighton, The Chilli Pickle.

So when I heard about their latest string to their bow, The Chilli Pickle Canteen take away, my heart raced and my stomach growled. Despite getting a tree load of takeaway menus though the door each week, I have never made use of them, it has never felt normal to me to get food delivered to my front door when my kitchen door is in view. But food I'm certain I can't cook at home, I love and I know has been cooked with passion and pride? Pass me the phone...

There is a good selection to choose from without being too over the top. The curries and accompaniments are similar if you order the Grand Thali or the Railway Tray, the latter being smaller with fewer accompaniments. There is also the Biryani set or the curries, sides and pickles all individullay priced. Meat eaters, vegetarians, pescatarians and vegans are all catered for.

We ordered the Tanjore Mutton Curry Grand Thali (£15.50) and the Old Delhi Chicken Railway Tray (£12.95) and they really did make a good impression when they arrived.

Think that's a little expensive for a take away? Well with the Railway Trays you get your curry, rice, dal, plum chutney, garlic pickle, yogurt and roast cumin dip, a sweet little carrot salad, chapati and roast pappad (poppadom) and with the Grand Thali and additional millet and green pea curry, onion and curry leaf fritter, a little baked pastry and a creamed rice pudding. And remember this isn't really a traditional take away as we know it, it's restaurant food served to your door. Yes exactly, bargain.

And it did taste as good as the food in the restaurant itself. The mutton was fall apart soft and sweet, the chicken aromatic and rich in its butter and cream sauce. As for all the accompaniments, it was like Christmas all over again! All the different tastes, textures; the heat and tang of the pickles (especially my favourite green coriander chilli pickle), the cool of the yogurt, the crunch of the salads, the chew of the bread... it's exciting stuff to eat. At no point do you get that monotonous sauce and rice feeling as with your bog standard UK curry house. This is solid, exciting regional Indian cooking.

The packaging is far more appealing that a stack of silver foil trays piled into a sweaty carrier bag, although I did think a tad excessive. Beauty and function is a tricky balance and it would be a shame to get rid of the originality of how the food is presented. Even all the little pots sitting snug in a smaller box with a lid rather than an additional slip case would still look good with the Chilli Pickle sticker. Don't know, tough call but if you ordered for 6, you would need a full recycling box for it all. It will be interesting what other people think. It is however, all recyclable and compostable and even the delivery cars are low-emission Smart cars. Brighton, innit.

Still, I am now super happy to have the option of eating some of Brighton's best food more frequently at home in my pants and although not a take away convert, restaurant food delivered to the door at such a reasonable price is something I want to see more of.

Order home delivery online at http://thechillipicklecanteen.com or visit the restaurant (details and full menu on http://www.thechillipickle.com)

Friday, 14 December 2012

RECIPE: Homemade toast rusks

These homemade rusks are a staple for munchies, teething and keeping the little one quiet at the table while we finish our meals. They are also a fantastic alternative to shop bought rusks as they have no sugar and are dirt cheap to make. I pinched this idea from a weaning workshop I went to that gave me the confidence to introduce Baby Foodie to finger foods. As they are slow baked they keep for ages in airtight containers so you can always  have then to hand. 

A loaf of Hovis 50/50 thick sliced bread

Cut each slice of bread into 4 fingers and place in a single layer on a baking tray. Place in an oven on 140 for 30-50 minutes until slightly golden and hardened. As the temperature and oven type is crutial, check on the rusks regularly, turning over once halfway through baking. Cool on wire racks and then place in airtight containers.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

PRODUCT REVIEW: Tripp Trapp highchair

Practically everything we have bought for Baby Foodie I sourced secondhand through Gumtree or Ebay, going for good brands at more affordable prices. Getting the quote for the pushchair I wanted (£800 - you what?!) and ending up getting for £150 practically new, spurred me on to do the same with almost everything. Seriously, setting up for a new baby needn't cost the Earth.

However, when it came to the highchair I really was quite specific about what I wanted and by nature, secondhand highchairs tended to be quite grubby. Having tried a few of the entry level chairs in a local shop and seeing BF slumped awkwardly in them, me struggling with the way to get him in (or out) or trapping my fingers in the mechanisms, I decided to spend a little more as this was something I would be using 3 times a day, every day for a while yet. It had to work for me. Oh, and I also didn't fancy a great big, ugly plastic thing round my table.

After an eternity of research, I whittled it down to three chairs, finally opting for the Tripp Trapp:

Baby Bjorn Appetite high chair RRP £179
A few people I know have the Baby Bjorn but I finally ruled it out despite it being the easiest to clean and having minimal footprint as it didn't seem like it would last a growing boy. Apparently it should see you through until 3 years but having tried it out I couldn't see how that was possible. However, I really liked the twist lock security and there were no fiddly harness straps to get dirty. Design-wise it's pretty slick looking.

OXO Sprout high chair RRP around £200
I adore OXO products. They are thoughtfully designed, erganomic and long-lasting. I really liked the look of the Sprout chair and the fact it converts to a booster chair means it would last up to about 5 years of age. I liked the colours, the (replaceable) cushions seemed comfortable but easy to clean and the chair well built and sturdy. The tray is removable and the chair designed to be used at dining table height if you wanted - a massive requirement for us. It was very adjustable and only pipped by the Tripp Trapp as the TT coverts to a standard chair after, so thought my money would go slightly further. Still love this chair though!

Stokke Tripp Trapp £160 (Baby Set Seat £47, Cushion £33, Harness £28)
Yes ok, I get a kick out of the fact that this could be classed as a design classic, being a design saddo that I am, and I like this in my house. But the 40 year old Tripp Trapp just works so well and lasts up to adult age, converting into a "normal" chair, so money well spent I think.

It has a really small footprint and no awkward legs to trip you over and tucks in neatly when not in use. It sits perfectly against the table, so Baby Foodie gets used to sittling and eating with us from day one. I just Bluetacked a large plastic placemat for the sake of our wooden table (a Stokke tray is available to purchase if you wanted). The Baby Set is fantastic and BF sat beautifully in it from 6 months, despite him not being the best sitter, when all other chairs seemed to make him slump down and get grumpy.

For my borderline OCD issues, it's great that it's so easy to clean. The wood is well lacquered and the Baby Set moulded plastic with no crumb catching corners. The seat cushions are made with the most incredible fabric. Wipable but really soft, not like the plasticy stuff you normally find on high chairs. Why the hell they don't make baby clothes out of the same stuff I have no idea! If you wipe these down quickly after each use, it should stay pretty clean, but you can pop the covers in the washing machine too.

It was easy to put together and is simple to adjust on a regular basis, I seem to be forever moving the footrest due to BF's ever lenthening legs. You need to keep hold of an allen key (supplied) for the adjustments. The only other tool you need is a hammer for the safety gliders on the feet.

Stylewise, the Tripp Trapp is incredibly customisable, coming in the largest range of base colours for the chair itself and then colours for the Baby Set unit and cushions. With so much choice, they even have an iteractive tool to preview your choice on their site.

The only thing I (and BF) didn't like was the (overpriced) harness and to be honest I don't really use it, finding it really awkward as it just seems to sit in the chair area, digging into his back or getting caught in his legs as I'm putting him in. The Baby Set seems secure enough for now and I never leave BF unattended, however I'm hanging onto the harness just incase he starts standing up in the chair. I also made sure to put the chair on the end of the table so he can't kick against the table frame under the table top which is good as apparently these chairs can tip and BF seems to want to push everything at some force with his feet at the moment.

So I'm very pleased with my purchase. I think you will get through quite a few £50 cheapies over the course of the baby's feeding journey so this is an area to spend a bit of money if you can.