It’s been a long few weeks on the day job front, and I’m definitely counting down the days to my holiday. In the meantime, I’m relying on good cups of tea and coffee to keep me going. So I think this might be my new mug.
Of course I don’t need a new mug, but sometimes there are some mornings where an added smile is going to be just a great extra bonus. From Old English Company, one of my favourites.
Apparently there’s been a bit of football on, but that’s passed us by here. But tomorrow Wimbledon kicks off, and that’s a fortnight I love.
Mainly because I love all the elements of Wimbledon, which in my book are champagne, Pimms, strawberries and afternoon tea. The tennis? Well, it’s quite a nice accompaniment to those things. And here’s a few things that might bring even more of a sense of occasion to the proceedings:
Ok, at some point there will need to be tea and cake. And as matches can go on for a bit (at least the good ones do) maybe stacking a few up on a cake stand is a good idea. I know it’s made for sharing, but it’s always best to be organised for the long haul! This Strawberries and Cream cake stand seems to sum up all the traditions of Wimbledon in a way that’s just calling out for scones, cream and cucumber sandwiches.
A pot of tea is probably appropriate, in case it’s a long match, and you’ll be needing a tea cosy to keep it warm. What could be more appropriate than a strawberry tea cosy?
And on the strawberry theme, if you wanted either strawberry jam for tea time, or as a gift, then I love this personalised strawberry and prosecco jam from Auntie Mims. Just try not to get through it all before the end of the fortnight.
By the end of the fortnight, let’s hope we are toasting at least one British success. You could do it with champagne, you could do it with Pimms, but I quite fancy something a little newer, but based on tradition. My choice would be the Sipsmith London Cup, just to ring the changes slightly. And if there’s no British success to toast, then I’ll make some anyway and toast the no doubt rightful champions.
Enjoy the Championships, it would be nice to think that it might be sunbathed rather than like the past couple of weeks. You know what rain means? That’s right, Cliff’s on standby!
So, we’re past the summer solstice, so it’s officially summer. No one has told the weather round here that yet though. But on the off chance that there is great weather ahead, then these books are all relatively new and suggest great summer cooking and eating to me.
Well, if it’s summer, then it must be time to break out the BBQ. This book is by Ben Tish of Ember Yard, who definitely knows a thing or two about BBQ, and I’m not just talking about a few burned burgers. I mean, when were you last served chargrilled duck breast with peas, broad beans and hot mint sauce at a BBQ? I’ve nothing against a good burger, but it would be lovely to do something different. Love that it covers desserts too, something often missing from BBQ books.
When it warms up, then great salads are definitely a good thing to get on the menu. And we’re not just talking about a few limp lettuce leaves and a slice of tomato, but the sort of robust, flavoursome salads that Leon are renowned for. This covers the salads and the dressings (always need a good dressing) with things like chicken and rice noodle salad for the leaf rejectors, and the classic Leon superfood salad. Perfect little book for big flavours.
Like I’ve already said, I’ve got nothing against a good burger, and Byron certainly know how to do a good burger. And this book shares some of their secrets for great burgers, but also for other great comfort food like meatloaf and onion rings. This book, like the first one, also does desserts, so things like cherry pie and and the Oreo and brownie sundae. It’s more in the vein of traditional BBQ fare than the first one, but definitely still a cut above the average.
I find it easier to think about vegetables in the summer months, with things like asparagus, fresh peas and broad beans being top of my list. I could probably just eat dishes of those with some burrata and some hollandaise. Well, Mat Follas has some better ideas than that in this book. So the peas turn up in a pea panna cotta and a warm salad of samphire, chilli and shallots is also perfectly seasonal for right now. Though I love the sound of smoked parsnips with pear and blue cheese, which will make the colder days of winter feel better.
Summer always gets so busy with lots of different events going on, kids heading off in different directions during the holidays, even more general busyness than usual so it makes sense to try and have some meals sorted out in advance. There’s nothing better than knowing there’s a great homecooked meal in the freezer ready to just be finished off. I don’t know what Burlington beef is, but I’d be intrigued to give it a go, and a double fish pie would definitely be one being tried in this house. I love Mary Berry and I’d feel confident in any recipe in this book. No shortcutting testing for Mary and her team!
So, a good variety of cooking from these books to encompass all kinds of summer cooking and eating. I hope we get some sunny days, to linger outside with something delicious on the BBQ, a great salad, something cold to drink and hopefully a good dessert too. What would be on your menu?
It’s the request I get most often. How to sift through the many options to find something perfect for the people you care about.
Because, let’s face it, some gifts are given out of some sort of obligation and take you about 30 seconds to choose. These are the sort of gifts we all perhaps need to think about why we are guilting ourselves into giving them, and if there are any better alternatives, given most of us don’t need more stuff.
But when you absolutely, definitely want to get it right, then I would say the perfect gift has some of the following qualities. Not necessarily all of them at once, but the right combinations are going to do the trick.
1. A great gift is personal
And I don’t mean monogrammed anything, unless that ticks some of the other things in here. I mean personal in that it shows you know the recipient, you’ve remembered something about them, their interests, their hopes and dreams. It’s why I love the internet generally, and places like Etsy and Not On the High Street, because now, no matter how obscure any of those interests are, with a little bit of effort you can find something fascinating. It might even be created by a fellow enthusiast, so someone who would also get them.
2. A great gift is a memory waiting to happen
This is why I love to suggest getting an experience as much as a thing, though it can apply to a physical object to. With an experience, you create a whole string of memories, hopefully all good, from the build up to the experience itself, to the knowledge gained through it and the tales told reliving it. Now, that really strikes me as value for money.
Even if you buy an out of the box experience, everyone will experience it differently and it will be theirs, just theirs. And things can do some of the same thing. If you buy a beautiful picture that they look at every day, or even a really useful bit of kitchen kit they use constantly, they might think of you, your friendship and other memories of things you’ve done together.
3. A great gift is surprising
Now, we know there can be bad surprises. The memories of the glitter wig are still with me, that was not a good surprise. But the secret to a good surprise in a gift is that it shows thoughtfulness, and probably mindfulness too. You’ve remembered something about them, something they said they liked, wished for, just in passing. It shows you noticed, that you were really listening. If your memory is like mine and these wishes disappear like thistledown, then write them down. When the occasion crops up you’ll be thankful.
4. A great gift is timely
Gifts don’t just have to be for the big days. Sometimes the best gifts are the just because kind of gifts. It just shows you thought about them, and then you did something about it to show them you were. This was the story behind the Kitsch Hen Cakes that I wrote about recently, and when that box arrived through my letterbox, it was very timely and just really gave me a lift.
Sometimes that’s all we need. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, and it could even be something practical. It’s like the gift of someone bringing round dinner in those first weeks after your baby is born, or arriving with icecream and a naff movie when your date was a disaster. Don’t discount those moments, sometimes they are the best gifts of all.
5. A great gift is indulgent
And I don’t mean it has to be hugely expensive, just something the recipient wouldn’t buy themselves. Like a tub of Artisan du Chocolat salted caramels. I never buy them for myself, but I love them. Getting these is a real treat (and yes, I know M&S do a version now, but sometimes you can’t beat the original). I feel the same way about lovely table linens or scented candles, but it’s not about me, you need to find what the ticks the indulgence box for whoever you’re buying for.
So, great gifts can combine all of these, or just one of these, and they’ll be brilliant. But given with love, which tends to mean you’ve taken some time to consider what you’re giving and who you’re giving it to, then all gifts are great.
Unless it’s a glitter wig. Never ever a great gift. Trust me.
What do you think? What makes a great gift in your book? And what’s the greatest gift you’ve ever been sent?
Tomorrow, June 21st, is the global awareness day for Motor Neurone Disease (also known as ALS) which is a disease that has touched my family. Now, I’m not suggesting anything involving ice or buckets, but the symbol of hope for people living with ALS/MND is the cornflower, one of the prettiest flowers around.
I don’t know why I didn’t know this already, I’d have planted great swathes of them. Bit late for tomorrow. And it’s a shame, but I can’t find anything on the MND Association website around cornflower products for fundraising in the UK.
MGG is renowned for dipping in and out of non meat eating, so she was well up for a trial of recipes from this book, as it’s a vegan based cookbook. We made the carrot and soba noodles with peanut butter tahini dressing, which was truly delicious.
Lots of big flavours as it involves tahini, peanut butter, sesame oil, lime…lots of flavours that we really love. I would say that maybe large carrots are larger in the US though, as this was supposed to serve two of us as a main course but was a bit mean (to the point that I had to find a second course for MGG).
It was a simple recipe to cook, just quite a lot of prep to spiralise all the veg, but once you’re underway it’s really quick, so a good after work recipe if you have everything to hand.
I’m going to make the ginger-lime coconut soup, for which you make noodles of sweet potato and courgette that you pour the soup over to cook them. Sounds delicious, but nourishing, and a great way of getting more vegetables into regular dishes. She also spiralises some fruit, which I’ve not tried before. I can imagine a pear being a little tricky to get at just the right time.
I love my cheese, but know there are many for whom cheese is off the agenda, either for reasons of dairy not liking them or choosing a lifestyle without dairy. But cheese is such a useful ingredient for all kinds of eating and cooking that it’s great to see such innovation in non dairy. Here’s a few that I’m thinking would be useful additions to the fridge for non dairy days:
Parmesan is very much a fridge staple in this house, so finding an alternative would be key. Violife produce Prosociano with a parmesan flavour, which is strong and nutty, and can be used in the same way that you would use regular Parmesan.
We’re also big on our homemade pizza, so something to go gooey and melty on the top would be useful. Veganic Pizza Cheese is clearly aimed at that market but would mean you could still produce a favourite food, and even produce one pizza for everyone coming for dinner. I bet most won’t notice the difference.
Looking on the Vegan Society website, I love that they have rated non dairy cheeses, and I love that they have one that’s been awarded the title of winner of the “best one to give non-vegan friends” category. The Vegusto No-Moo Mild Aromatic Cheddar Alternative is worth a go, to produce a cheese and pickle sandwich to keep everyone happy.
I think many homes would need an alternative to a spready creamy cheese, and so the Original Creamy Sheese might just do the trick. I’d love to know how this one cooks, as I use it quite often in things like brownies (although to be fair, I’d have quite a lot of other adjustments to make to the recipe to make it vegan). Sheese also comes in a number of flavours, just as you would usually see in the chiller cabinets.
These links take you mainly directly to the creators and producers, but the supermarkets are beginning to catch on and carry a broader range. Ocado appear to have half a dozen options, whilst Waitrose offer none and Asda have three. So not wide spread, but growing, but you’ll probably find local stockists in more specialist stores in the short term. Worth just keep asking though, as demand always drives change in the long term.
I love it when you come across new businesses doing great things that are just a bit different, and The Kitsch Hen Cakes is such a business. I mean, just how beautiful are these?
Caroline Stafford, the owner and creator, sent me this box, and actually though a random choice on her behalf were a perfect little pick me up in a difficult week. Great sentiments, pretty to look at and delicious to eat with a resorative cup of tea.
I thought it was a really lovely thing to receive, and heaven knows grabbing a cup of tea and a delicious biscuit would feel a great treat in those early weeks.
Caroline has only recently started the business, after some difficult times of her own with the idea coming from wanting to send a friend something more than a card, but to give them a bit of a lift. And I can see that it would, for all kinds of occasions. If you’re organised and thinking ahead to end of term teacher gifts then these are definitely better than a box of Quality Street!
Richard is one of my favourite non-winners of Bake Off, who could forget him and his pencil stuck behind his ear? Not to mention some incredible bakes. A good mix of sweet and savoury bakes, for every level of baker. Pencil not provided.
I’ve cooked from this one, and it’s both great for feeding men, but also I would say could be the sort of robust dishes guys like. It’s not a dumbed down cookbook for men, it’s about great flavours but without necessarily being over-complicated, a recognition of the way most of us, men and women, cook for our families. I like this one a lot.
I really like Tom Kerridge, doesn’t matter how many Michelin stars he has, he is still refreshingly down to earth and remembers how we cook in our own non-professional kitchens. What I like is that he brings in appropriate shortcuts from the pro kitchen to help take your home cooking up a level, without it getting over-complicated or stressful. Because it’s all about the taste, and everyone sitting down to some great grub.
Couple of my favourite things going on here. I love slow cooked meat, and think it’s an appealing subject for a book for meat lovers. This is about taking something and treating it lovingly for a long period of time and watching it transform. Slow cooked brisket is one of my favourite things ever. And also it’s good to see a new book from Neil Rankin, one of those chefs who flies a bit under the radar.
Just to balance out the meat from the previous title, then this is the latest offering from the Flynn brothers. Owners of the legendary Happy Pear Cafe in Ireland, they continue on their quest to show that vegetarian food is endlessly varied, packed full of flavour and simple to prepare. Well, they’re looking well on it and the recipes sound delicious too. I’m up for a grilled halloumi burger anytime.
So, five varied titles for Dads, hopefully not playing too much into male cooking clichés. If the dad in your life has a favourite cookbook then I’d love to hear about it, please leave me a note in the comments.