The Foodie Gift Hunter

Great gift ideas for fabulous foodies

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Keeping the kids entertained with jars

August 24th, 2016 · Cookbooks, Foodie gifts, Foodie things to do

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How to keep bored kids entertained in the kitchen

 

It’s that stage in the holidays where the kids start moping around, complaining that they’re bored, and parents are running short of ideas.

Well, this book might help. Mason Jar Nation, whilst not purely food or drink idea based, could provide a few hours entertainment for the kids. It could end up producing something for dinner, or something to carry to a picnic, or some other craft projects, although these are probably more suitable for older kids.

And much older if it’s the Pineapple Vodka!

 

Mason Jar Nation - great cookbook gift for a food lover with kids to entertain

 

Of course it’s all been about the Mason jar, which you may or may not have hanging around the house. Personally I think the trend has probably reached a peak, and you could do many of these with any fairly robust glass jar you have hanging around the house.

I mean, if you’re going to try making homemade butter with them (which would be great fun) then then the butter isn’t going to know it’s being churned in a Mason jar or a leftover jam jar, just as long as the lid is tight fitting.

A nice little book, not worth the full price though but there are options on Amazon from £4.73.

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5 signs it’s nearly Christmas

August 17th, 2016 · Christmas foodie gifts, Foodie gifts

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What? You think it’s ages till Christmas? Well, the early warning signals are going here, the signs are all there:

a) Odd leaves are changing colours on the trees

 

Leaves are on the turn

 

b) Bake Off is back on the 24th. End of summer signal blinking very brightly.

 

Bake Off is back! I repeat, Bake Off is back.

 

c) They’re announcing the Strictly contestants. Which means it’s downhill to the final, by which point you’d better have your Christmas cake made!

 

d) I’ve seen the first mention of the Gin Advent Calendar. And it wasn’t by me.

 

Ginvent - my perfect Advent Calendar. Twenty four days of fabulous gin

 

e) Selfridges Christmas shop is open.

Santa Claus is getting ready

So, probably best get a wriggle on. Get your lists written now, last minute shopping is never the best way of doing things!

 

Mary Berry photo from the BBC, wiggling hips gif from Giphly.

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Learning to cook the Italian way at Tasty Tuscany

August 4th, 2016 · Foodie gifts, Foodie things to do, Foodie Travel

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Al fresco dinners at Tasty Tuscany

 

As I mentioned on Tuesday, MGG and I have just enjoyed 8 days. in Tuscany, 6 of which we spent immersed in the world of Italian cooking with Manul and Paolo at Tasty Tuscany.

Perched on a hillside (count the hairpin bends getting up there, all five of them!) it’s idyllic, peaceful (if you ignore the cicadas) and surrounded by olive trees. And it has a kitchen that I could happily live in, and a huge marble table that any would be chocolatier in particular would have huge envy of.

 

The marble kitchen table at Tasty Tuscany ready for lessons to begin

 

The 6 nights there give you a good combination of cooking lessons, and trips out around the local area. Let’s face it, it was nearly 30°C most days at midday, and not many of us amateurs would choose to be cooking in that heat, so lessons were at 5pm, ready for that evening’s meal.

The three lessons focused on a northern dinner, a southern vegetarian dinner and a Tuscan dinner, so reflecting three diverse styles out of the many that actually make up “Italian” cooking. As Manul says, these are family dishes, not restaurant dishes and actually, for me, that makes them much more useful. We’ve already cooked some of them again since our return home.

The style is very relaxed, there were three of us staying, with a maximum of six, which the kitchen can comfortably accomodate. It doesn’t need any particular level of skill, just enthusiasm, the ability to follow instructions, and to just enjoy. The wine usually came out at some point in the process and there was lots of laughter.

And then there were the dishes. We can’t really decide which we liked the most, but we’ve already cooked the pork loin in vin santo again along with the white cabbage and dried fruit salad.

 

Pork loin with vin santo at Tasty Tuscany

 

Tomorrow will see us revisit the cannelloni with aubergine rolls (and I didn’t think I liked aubergine before this trip), and probably the chocolate chip cantuccini as well.

 

Cannelloni with aubergine rolls at Tasty Tuscany

 

We enjoyed all the meals, particularly when it was cool enough to eat outside (though take industrial strength mosquito repellent, they’re real biters up there) and I loved how many different salads we did.

 

View of the main house at Tasty Tuscany

 

The rooms are comfortable, though don’t come expecting 5 star facilities (this is not the trip for you if that’s what you need). Plenty of space, beautiful views, though we were so busy that we didn’t see much of the rooms. There’s also a gorgeous saltwater pool, perfect around 6pm if you’re not cooking for a pre-dinner dip.

 

Pool with a view at Tasty Tuscany

 

I’ll write separately about some of the trips we did from here, as we loved many of those adventures too. I would highly recommend this trip if you are looking for a holiday that’s a good mix of activities and sightseeing, busy times and some down time, great food and meeting new people. I’d love to go in October/November when you can get involved in the olive harvest and all the steps involved with the oil extraction.

If you’re a last minute kind of person, I believe they do have some availability in August and September, so get in touch with them now. Your tastebuds will thank you!

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The 12 things I learnt in Tuscany (and want to learn again)

August 2nd, 2016 · Foodie gifts, Foodie things to do

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MGG and I have just been in Tuscany for just over a week, and whilst there are many things that I’ll write about in more detail, I thought you might like a taster of 12 things we learnt (and would happily learn again, given most of them are food and drink related). Here goes:

 

Cappucinos only come in one size in Italy

  1. Cappucinos only come in one size: perfectly sized. No buckets here. And don’t order it after about 11am. Yes, it really is not the thing.

 

Italian pastries are delicious

2. Italian pastries are delicious. From freshly filled cannoli to mini sfogliatella, we loved them. We couldn’t pronounce some of them properly, but we got there.

 

The way to start every good Italian meal

 

3. Antipasto was our favourite way to start a meal. Meats, cheeses drizzled with honey and a selection of bruschetta were almost a meal in themselves, and truly delicious way to start a good evening.

 

Our first cooking lesson at Tasty Tuscany

4. Learning to cook food from a variety of Italian regions at Tasty Tuscany was an excellent way to spend 6 nights of anyone’s holiday. So many wonderful dishes and techniques, definitely highly recommended by us.

 

There's more to Italian wine than Chianti

 

5. There’s more to Italian wine than Chianti. The one on the left was my favourite, but as it’s about £30 a bottle here then I’ll be saving it for great days.

 

You should always follow the queue

6. Sometimes, it’s worth following the queue. This is Pizza Da Felice in Lucca. Always queues out the door, but darn tasty pizza by the slice.

 

Because pizza isn't always round

7. We discovered pizza isn’t always round, harking back to its starting point and buying what you could afford by the slice.

 

Salad can be the most colourful thing on the menu

8. Salad can be the most colourful thing on the menu. And regularly was, with a whole load of different flavours. This one was carrot, beetroot and apple.

 

Coffee art taken up a notch

9. The Italians like their coffee art colourful and full on. Not just swirls in the milk for them. Or maybe just this one place in Certaldo.

 

Florence Central Market Food Court

 

10. Florence Central Food Market was probably our favourite sight in the city. Let’s face it, it was 30° outside, and crowded. And the food was better in their food court than most other places around. We had 3 meals here.

 

A breakfast table with a difference

11. Our favourite hotel of the trip had the most incredible breakfast spread. Given this was just one of the tables, and there are only five (wonderful) rooms, then Relais San Lorenzo in Lucca gets a huge thumbs up from us.

 

A Spritz and a snack, perfect

 

12. The Spritz is my favourite apertif. Keeping this one going, Aperol on its way to the house shortly (Ocado have a third off currently).

So, lots of great stuff to follow. If you’re tempted, there’s space at Tasty Tuscany in August.

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It’s my birthday…

July 20th, 2016 · Foodie gifts

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The best birthday cakes ever from my tribe

 

And I won’t write if I want to. Or something to that effect.

So, normal service will be resumed once cake eating has stopped.

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What do food lovers get for wedding presents?

July 18th, 2016 · Cookbooks, Foodie gifts, Foodie things to do

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What do you get food lovers for a wedding present?

 

Hopefully not some of the things that we get as food lovers as Christmas! Maybe it’s just indicative that I’m at that age where there aren’t so many weddings, but I haven’t written about wedding gifts in six years.

Given that I’ve been through a few life experiences since the last wedding I went to (and it’s usually best not to mention that at a wedding) I wondered if I’d feel differently about advice I’d given. Well, here goes!

 

Surely there's a wedding gift more interesting than towels?

 

Buy off the list. Unless the list is dull.

Now, generally I still think if the couple have gone to the trouble of putting together a wedding list, then generally it’s better to stick to their list. Unless you’ve not been organised and got to it too late to find anything either in your budget, or interesting to give. And therefore I would stick with the original plan.

I found myself in this situation once, and it’s why I ended up breaking that rule, and went off list, and adopted an olive tree for them with Nudo. Was still a better bet than the two flannels that fell in my budget.

 

Add an extra food loving something to their honeymoon

 

Do something for their honeymoon

Yes, this could still be a great idea, if the destination is not secret, as it’s easier than ever to find foodie tours or cooking classes most places in the world with a click of the mouse. Just maybe check in that it’s not the kind of honeymoon with an hour by hour itinerary.

 

Fortnum & Mason Beemaster's Hamper

 

A hamper for their return

Let’s face it, coming back from any holiday is depressing, so a honeymoon must be doubly so. A hamper of gorgeous goodies, preferably things that would make a good carpet picnic, is still an idea that I think could go down well.

 

Add to their cookbook collection

 

Checking other wishlists

If the first bit of advice is holding true, and the official wedding list is not inspiring you, then checking whether they have things like an Amazon wishlist for some alternatives, particularly in the cookbook or kit area, might be a great idea for something more interesting than towels. It might be more things they really want, than things they think they ought to have, which I do think sometimes happens with wedding lists.

 

Date night!

 

Book a date night for the future

Originally my advice was about trying to book them a table at their must do restaurant for post honeymoon. But perhaps on reflection it could also be about buying something they can go off and do together? A wine tasting or a cookery class perhaps? You could try local to the bride and groom businesses, or try somewhere like Red Letter Days for a great selection nationwide.

 

To be fair, none of this has held up for the weddings I’m attending. One asked for travel vouchers, another for donations to a hot tub fund. Let’s face it, most of us have all the china we need, so why not? Or maybe even we need nothing at all, and donations to good causes seems to be on the rise as well.

Still, all more interesting than towels!

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Candles for food lovers on a summer night

July 16th, 2016 · Foodie gifts

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Candles and Lanterns for perfect summer night's

 

I keep hoping for those blissful summer evenings when you can sit outside, with a glass of something cold whilst you enjoy the last of the sun’s warmth and the smell of summer on the evening breeze.

Of course this year it’s been more likely to be a cup of tea indoors listening to the sound of the rain hammering on the conservatory roof. Which is why we need to bring our sense of smell into play, and bring on some great summer scents around the house. And this is perfect for food lovers as there are so many wonderful food based ones around at the moment.

Max Benjamin Lemongrass & Ginger Candle - great gift for a food lover

Summery with a slight Asian feel to kick us off: Lemongrass and Ginger from Max Benjamin at Love Aroma. I have their Moroccan Mint candle, and the fragrance lift is brilliant.

 

Tomato and Blackcurrant Candle - great gift for a food lover

 

Now, this next combination is unusual, but if I think of gardens and greenhouses of my childhood, then maybe it’s not so odd. Tomato and blackcurrant could be lovely, if it’s based on the scent of the sunshine on the leaves of the two plants. The fruits mushed together…maybe not. Good choice for a slightly more adventurous or back to nature food lover.

 

Mayfair Candle Company Pink Papaya Candle - great gift for a food lover

 

For a tropical summer scent, then Pink Papaya from the Mayfair Candle Company might do the trick. Papaya meets melon, mandarin and coconut, sounding like the perfect starter to a summer cocktail, just waiting for some rum. The candle is lower calorie.

 

Orla Kiely Earl Grey Candle - great gift for a food lover

 

I love a cup of Earl Grey tea on a summer’s afternoon (raining or not). This Earl Grey candle by Orla Kiely would make a stylish gift, and the bright bergamot scent blended with black tea will be like a cuppa: instantly refreshing.

 

Wild Mint Candle from The White Company - great gift for a food lover

 

Mint is definitely a summer scent to me, whether it’s brushing past the herb growing in my garden, and the sprig that goes into the Pimms. The Wild Mint candle from The White Company is simple and lovely in design, and with that perfect summer scent. I’d find this one hard to give away.

So, some great choices for food lovers, with the benefit of delicious food scents but with no calories involved.

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A recipe box for true Japanese food lovers

July 14th, 2016 · British favourites, Foodie gifts, Foodie things to do

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Japan Centre for all things Japanese food

 

I love the Japan Centre, it’s always been a fascinating place to stop into on a trip to London, and it’s been brilliant to watch their web presence expand.

 

Japan Centre Fresh Recipe Boxes

 

I see they’ve now got into the recipe box business, and just thought how great this would be as a treat for a real Japanese food, or culture, lover. It could be for a night in for two of you, or there’s a family box for bigger gatherings, and there’s a vegetarian option.

 

Vegetable Katsu Curry

 

The classic box is described as a perfect mix of modern and traditional Japanese cooking, with ingredients for one meal, and they all seem to do that really well. There are recipes for Yaki Udon Stir Fried Noodles, Oyako Donburi Chicken & Egg on Rice and one of our favourites, Vegetable Katsu Curry and Rice.

Whilst this is a subscription service, you can cancel at any time up until the next payment is due, so really can be used in an one off way. Orders have to be in by 11.59pm on a Thursday for delivery the following week.

I think we’re going to give this a go, I know MGG would love this given her love of cooking and all things Japanese at the moment, and it wouldn’t mean committing to a whole load of new ingredients upfront.

I’ll keep you posted on how we get on.

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The art of Wedgwood, 286 years on

July 12th, 2016 · British favourites, Foodie gifts, Kitchenwares

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Happy birthday Josiah Wedgwood

 

It’s 286 years today since the birth of Josiah Wedgwood, and all credit that the brand that bears his name is still going strong. That said, I don’t think he’d recognise the designs now, they’re certainly different to the blue and white traditional image we might have of Wedgwood.

 

Green Chinoiserie by Jasper Conran

 

I mean, the Green Chinoiserie by Jasper Conran for Wedgwood looks like something modern and vibrant, and yet has elements of classical design to it. The one thing Josiah was great at was understanding trends and what people wanted, so working with a taste maker like Jasper might well have met with his approval.

 

Vibrance from Wedgwood

 

Or the sheer exhuberance of the completely aptly named Vibrance? Rich, sumptuous, indulgent…all things he wanted for his original wealthy clients. Whilst he is credited with the industrialisation of the manufacture of pottery, he wasn’t in the cheap end of the market, far from it.

 

Intaglio by Wedgwood

 

But Wedgwood was also riding the wave of a new enthusiasm for classical design. Intaglio would seem to be doing that in my book, beautiful white pottery but with superb detailing for interest.

Wedgwood isn’t really a brand I think about very often, as I’ve not thought it was my style for quite a long time. I can see now though that this brand has kept moving forward, and actually is more appealing than I might have thought. I think Josiah’s legacy is safe for quite a bit longer yet.

What do you think? Were you ahead of me on this one? Or still thinking of blue and white trinket boxes?

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A quick photo trip round Paris

July 10th, 2016 · Foodie gifts, Foodie Travel

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Paris Time

 

Just in time for Bastille Day, I thought I’d share some photos from the two nights I had in Paris recently with the day job. Which is no bad thing, when in between the work stuff you can stumble across all kinds of great stuff en route to the next work thing.

So, just a few snaps to remind you why any time spent in Paris is a treat for a food lover. I mean, this was the local bakery just along the street from my friend’s apartment:

 

Just your average local bakery, when you're in Paris

 

There were beautiful napkins to browse at Fragonard, in amongst all the amazing fragrances:

 

Beautiful napkins at Fragonard

Fab chocolate displays for Father’s Day, which could have been very tempting.

 

Chocolate for Dads, Parisian style

I stopped in this store because their air conditioning was great (it was a fabulously warm day, about two days after they were moving paintings out the basement of the Louvre). They also had some great food based gifts.

 

Father's Day Gifts Parisian Style

And then back to the bakers, to discover why Parisians don’t bake. I mean, why would you when this was on the doorstep?

 

Why Parisians Don't Bake

And that was about all I had time to fit in. Well, that and drinking champagne in the Tuileries Gardens until late with good friends. Which is probably the best thing to do during any trip to Paris.

I highly recommend it.

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