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Christmas crackers anyone?

October 30th, 2014 · Christmas foodie gifts, Foodie gifts

Well, I’ve tried to help you find great Advent calendars with a difference, so now here’s some crackers with a difference for the Christmas table.

I saw these from Master of Malt, perfect if you’re having an adults only Christmas lunch, or can be careful not to get them mixed up! A different dram in each, plus paper hat and crap joke. Which will seem a lot less crap once you’ve each drunk the drams!


Christmas crackers


I mean, how many mini screwdriver sets do you need?

There’s a version from Fortnum & Mason as well, which includes some of the Master of Malt drams, plus some branded options such as Bombay Sapphire and Chase Vodka. Sure beats the fortune telling fish!

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In case Santa thinks I’ve been really good!

October 28th, 2014 · Foodie gifts

I may have mentioned once or twice how much I like a champagne coupe. And I’ve loved all the ones I’ve featured. But if Santa thinks I’ve been really good this year (or anyone wants to get into my really good books) then I think these might just be the very top of my list of favourite coupes ever:

Waterford coupes

These are from Waterford, so of course are not cheap. As I write this, then John Lewis are price matching so they are reduced to £200, so £50 a pop. Normal price is £225. They are investment coupes for sure, but things of absolute beauty. I’ve got some gorgeous sherry glasses they would look beautiful alongside of. This is not about owning a branded thing, but about these being almost works of art, something to look at and enjoy every day.

Otherwise, it’s back to my regular coupes from the charity shop, though I love each and every single mismatched one!

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The Friday Five – making treats for Halloween

October 24th, 2014 · Cookbooks, Foodie gifts, Friday Five

It’s that time of year, when the kitchen comes over a bit spooky and we make treats that look like tricks. It’s been going on for a few years now, and I should probably update my cookbook choice, but there’s still quite a few recipes for me to go at. But if I was looking for some new inspiration, maybe one of these would do the trick:


halloween treats


Halloween Treats – a great book from Annie Rigg. These are definitely more cute than creepy to me, perhaps more suitable if you’ve got little ones to entertain on Halloween (we appear to be entering more of a zombie stage here). Annie’s recipes and designs are always lovely, so I’d definitely think about this one.


Spooky 3D Cookbook


The Spooky 3D Cookbook – I would say this was perfect if you’re going to actually be cooking with the kids, as sure the 3D glasses will be very popular! This is definitely less cute, with recipes like Blood & Guts Pasta, Eyeball Tarts and Bleeding Berries Crumble. I can imagine that this would appeal to my 7 year old nephew no end!


Halloween Tricks Treats


Halloween! Tricks, Treats, Fun and Sweets – that about sums up the focus of the book! This probably gives you more “proper” meal ideas, based on autumn eating not just Halloween. I really like the sound of Corn & Ham Muffins and Pumpkin Fritters, sounds like a good autumn meal ahead of heading out trick or treating.


Cake Decorating Halloween


Cake Decorating with the Kids – Halloween – if you don’t want to invest much in a book for such a one off occasion, then this eBook might be just the trick. Just 91p, this eBook is perfect for making a few simple projects with the kids. I mean, Scary Spider Cupcakes are surely a must do for Halloween?


Ghoulish Goodies


Ghoulish Goodies – sometimes, your first choice is a good one, and this is the one that is still in use in this house.  Zombie Eyeballs are still popular, although to be fair we make Funny Bones every year, having now perfected our technique. I love this book, even if just once a year!

So go on, go a bit mad in the kitchen this Halloween. What ever you turn out is going to be so much better than most pre-made stuff, and everyone can get involved in helping. Definitely makes for all treats in my book.



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When Advent got interesting

October 22nd, 2014 · Foodie gifts

I remember Advent calendars when I was a kid, lovely pictures with lovely pictures behind cardboard doors. I don’t think I can remember chocolate ones coming into the frame, although I think they did for my brother.

Well, now there are all kinds of chocolate ones on offer, but then I love that there is even more variety available now, especially for those of us who might have thought that we had outgrown advent calendars. I mean, who doesn’t want one of these?


Betty's Advent calendar


First up, a sweet offer from Betty’s, still one of my favourite places in the UK. This lovely fabric calendar was designed by Poppy Treffry, so Cornwall’s finest meets Yorkshire’s! A festive chocolate treat hides behind each pocket and this is one you could use for years to come, just top up the chocolates. This one goes on sale at the end of October and will be priced at £47.50.


biscuiteers advent


Again, on the sweet theme, then you could try this one from Biscuiteers. Now, this is not a cheap option in year one, as the fabric pockets is £55 and then the Advent Box of biscuits is £85. Now, they are beautiful, and you will get many years out of the pockets, so maybe it’s a worthwhile investment. Or buy the pockets and bake your own!


Tea Forte Advent


Need something to wash down all that sweetness? I rather like this Tea Advent Calendar from Tea Forte which gives you a different seasonal infusion of cheer each day. A nice treat, and definitely a lower calorie option than the others!


Beer advent calendar


But then there’s also another couple of drink based options, although less suitable for opening and tasting at breakfast time. This advent calendar is from Best of British Beer, so you can guess what’s behind each door! I like the Christmas Day option is a Champagne style ale, but plenty of variety to go at before then!


Ginvent Calendar


Rather more up my street is the Ginvent Calendar, but again not one for sampling at breakfast time perhaps! But 24 different gins to try? That’s like all my Christmases come at once!

So plenty of new, interesting choices. Though if you want the ultimate low-calorie advent calendar, then I can personally recommend this one!

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Week 4 Cookbook Challenge – Mexican Food Made Simple

October 21st, 2014 · Cookbooks, Foodie gifts, Places to shop online

This was another of MGG’s choices, a book we love, from a writer and chef I love and with memories of many happy meals MGG and I have had at Wahaca. And a few I’ve had there without her, that have involved considerably more tequila!


Mexican Food Made Simple

Mexican Food Made Simple


I’ve made quite a few things from this before, and always consult it when making guacamole, and have poached a few chickens and done mole poblano a few times too. But we chose to make a two course meal, one a Wahaca favourite, and one that is surely a favourite on many household menus.




First up, we made chorizo, potato and thyme quesadillas, something we’ve often order at Wahaca, where our order usually comes straight off the street food menu. These are quick and easy, incredibly tasty, slightly indulgent and a snack that I think I may well rustle up quite a few times more! Delicious!

Complete opposite of this is the “easy, speedy chile con carne”. Thomasina does say that it’s not a Mexican recipe but with it being such a favourite she wanted to include a version. I’d had this before at a friend’s house (we try not to mention the fortune her husband spent on a courier to get the right chillies there on time to cook for said event) and it is delicious.


Getting our spice on


The spicing in this is amazing, and is about flavours, not necessarily heat. The recipe calls for ancho chillies and chiles de arbol, which I’d recommend sourcing (in a timely fashion) from Cool Chile Co. But the chillies are only part of the story, as there’s also cumin, allspice, cloves, cinnamon sticks, bay and oregano, which makes for such amazing contrasts.


Silverside and chorizo


The other big surprise might be that there is no mince involved, but slow cooking of something like stewing steak, or silverside. I used a 1kg joint of Aberdeen Angus silverside, as you need this to start out in fairly big slices. The 3 hours cooking renders it to gorgeous tenderness, although in my case I cooked it for 8 hours in my slow cooker, to much the same effect. The 1kg made about 9 portions, so very economical, even given that it was good meat to start with.

I don’t make enough from this book, but every time I do make something then I really do enjoy the flavours, as they are varied and suprising. Maybe I’ll do a few more in time for Dia Los Mortes starting November 1st. Even if not, this book is still a keeper in my eyes.

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The height of chocolate sophistication

October 19th, 2014 · Chocolate, Foodie gifts

When I was a kid, there was one kind of chocolate that really wasn’t for sharing, was just for the adults. I didn’t even know what it was called, but it seemed so grown up with its gold foil and outer red and white cellophane wrapper.

To us, I think they were called elephants, and I know now they do appear to have little feet to them, and that the elephant is the brand mark of Côte D’Or. So maybe not such a random name as it seemed as a kid.


Cote Dor Bouchees


And oh the heaven when a small sliver did make it our way. Such creaminess, such sweetness, all wrapped up in even more delicious chocolate. Truly the adults got the best thing. And as I got older, and made my own trips to France, then I could at last acquire my own Bouchées.

I suppose they could have become an ongoing thing in my life, those little elephants of praline delight. After all, I’ve done many trips to France, and putting the words in Google will reveal nearly 63,000 entries. And I can afford to buy my own.

But somehow, some years later, they never have been a regular fixture here. Thinking of one now doesn’t fill me with longing, although admittedly a little nostalgia. Time has moved my tastes to the less sweet, not to mention the slightly more unusual.

For me, the stuff I would hide is less likely to be praline based, but a bar of something good. I have been known to hide a bar or two of the good stuff from Amelia Rope, in fact a hidden bar of the dark Hazelnut and Sea Salt was a small rebellion during the dying days of my marriage. Really a bad sign when you won’t share the good stuff!

I hope I’ve brought MGG up to enjoy all kinds of chocolate, although we’re still working on the dark stuff. I do think it’s something you only get a taste for as you age, a bit like my relationship with red wine and blue cheese. But like in many things in life, some things are worth waiting for.

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The Friday Five – Chocolate all round

October 17th, 2014 · Foodie gifts

I love chocolate, I may well have mentioned this more than once. So this week is one of my favourite weeks, although quite often every week is Chocolate Week here.

I don’t actually have any cookbooks devoted to chocolate, but I did, then I might pick one of these:


Chocolate at Home


Chocolate at Home – from master patissier Will Torrent, this really does show you how to start making your own chocolate wonders at home. I would suggest this was for someone who was semi serious about chocolate making, rather than just fancying knocking up some truffles on a Saturday afternoon.


Miss Hopes Chocolate Box


Miss Hope’s Chocolate Box – I think this is probably more my personal style, particularly after the recent TV series. I mean, any book with a recipe for a Walnut Whip is fine with me! Chocolate Ginger Creams wouldn’t be passed up either.


Totally chocolate


Totally Chocolate – I love Eric Lanlard, but then I always love people with passion and conviction, and he has those in large spoonfuls. This covers all kinds of things to do with chocolate, from quick bakes to very glamorous desserts and show stopping cakes. Truly something for everyone and every kind of occasion.


Adventures with Chocolate


Adventures with Chocolate – I’m very tempted by this one! I saw Paul A. Young do a great demo at the first Harvest a few years back, and it was fabulous. Best brownie recipe I’ve come across for when you wanted brownie with added attitude! But let’s face it, this one might win for having apparently the best Chocolate Martini recipe in there. I’m all for a bit of testing!


Montezumas Chocolate Book


Montezuma’s Chocolate Cookbook – I’m very fond of Montezuma’s, I remember when they just started out when I lived near Chichester. I love their big flavours, and that there’s nothing really delicate going on, which probably sums up much of my approach to cooking and baking. Orange and Geranium Chocolate Souffles have to be a dessert worth trying.

To be honest, I’d love all five of these. I’d order up a few bars of chocolate from Amelia Rope and settle down to some very tasty reading.

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Maybe this is just the treat of a Fortnum’s hamper I need

October 15th, 2014 · British favourites, Chocolate, Foodie gifts

I’ve always wanted a Fortnum’s hamper, just because really. It’s one of those stores that as a kid coming up from Bristol just blew my mind. Not as overwhelming as Harrods, but just an amazing store.

And with all the recent refits, it still does it for me.


Halloween Hamper


I think they’ve definitely got with the times, and I do love their Halloween collection each year (although being Fortnum’s it’s listed as Hallowe’en, and I do love good punctuation). This little Trick or Treat hamper is just so cute (possibly not the right word for Halloween) but who doesn’t want a Dracula gingerbread? Not to mention a whole stack of scary sweets.

And then that basket is perfect for collecting an awful lot of trick or treat goodies. But even more so it’ll carry a great picnic when the warm weather returns!

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Week 3 Cookbook Challenge – Ottolenghi the Cookbook

October 13th, 2014 · British favourites, Cookbooks, Foodie gifts

So, this one is not really a challenge, as this is really one of my very favourite cookbooks. There are a great many splattered pages, not to mention happy memories, contained in this book.


Ottolenghi the Cookbook


It came out because like many other times I had a girl friend coming to dinner and, whilst food is always important, the chat had a very important role too. I needed a dish that wasn’t going to need lots of last minute attention, and was something I could put together after work.


Otto 1


This time I made the puy lentils with sour cherries, bacon and Gorgonzola. What can I say? Just perfect. Sweet and salty, bit of fruit, healthy spinach running through it. What more could you ask for? It’s a really simple dish, with loads of flavour, and I really think anyone could make it.

In fact, I feel that way about lots of the recipes in here, and I’ve never had one fail yet. It’s a book for people who love great flavours and ingredients, even if they’re not confident cooks. I mean, figs with young pecorino and honey? Shop right and follow the straightforward instructions, and you’ve got a very impressive dish.

Even though my wonderful guest, Northern Girl, says she can’t cook, I reckon she’d dish any of these up just fine. In fact, I’m thinking that maybe I’ve solved her Christmas present. I know there are newer books from Yotam and Sami, but sometimes you just can’t beat the original!

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Too much to ask for a hand blender that works?

October 11th, 2014 · British favourites, Foodie gadgets, Foodie gifts

I’ve finally had enough of the hand blender I bought last year. It was a Kitchen Works one from Argos, and I’ve finally come to the conclusion I’d have as much success whizzing plastic knife around in a mug as using the mini chopper of this. It’s also useless in that most bits of it can’t go into the dishwasher, or get washed very well at all.


So, it feels like time for a replacement and upgrade. Having had a quick glance around various reviews and things, not to mention a few wishlists, then these are some up for consideration:


Bosch hand blender

I think this is probably at the top of my list, based on great reviews and that it doesn’t feel completely out of reach from a cost perspective. This is the Bosch MSM6700GB, in case you need to know that kind of thing. I like that it looks like it’s going to do a darn good job of chopping, but I also love the fact that it all the right bits can go in the dishwasher.


kmix hb800


Not many flash brand names in my kitchen, they all have to be workhorses. So, my mixer is a Kenwood Chef, and so perhaps I should move to the Kenwood kMix HB800. That said, I am not paying an extra £40 for the flashy red or black versions, the cream version will do just the same job. Looks like it will do a darn fine job too.


KItchenAig Blender

Of course, if your mixer is the flashy one, then maybe you’ll need the stick blender to go with it. The Kitchen Aid stick blender looks very nice, but what you see is what you get. Literally. No extras.



Lakeland Stick Blender


Lakeland have been busy with their own brand gadgets, and their stick blender looks very smart. It’s got plenty of added extras and a powerful 800W motor. So probably a lot more effective than my current one!


Sage by heston hand blender


So, if you had lots to spend, and wanted some extras as well, then the Sage by Heston Blumenthal one seems to have it all going on. It’s a bit more than just a stick blender but would seem to do everything you might want to do without getting out the big bits of kit.

I’m not sure where I’ll end up but these certainly make me know that I made a poor choice the first time!

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