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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.