My fail safe cookbooks to gift to anyone


I love cookbooks, as many areas of my house would testify. And my favourites are well thumbed, and probably covered in cooking stains, which to me is the badge of a successful book. I’ve also given quite a number of cookbooks to other people over the years, and I know which ones people come back to tell me they’ve used, even if they were reluctant cooks and bakers.

So these may not be the newest, flashiest or cheapest books on the shelves this Christmas, but these cookbooks are ones that I think earn their keep year after year, and every home should have some if not all of them.


Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard - my favourite baking book ever


Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard

I’ve given quite a number of copies of this over the years, because it’s my favourite baking book. It’s also crammed full of incredible recipes, brilliant technique and great photos, written in a way that just makes you want to get into the kitchen straightaway! I love Dan’s writing, and his recipes, and I love to share this book.


River Cottage Family Cookbook - great gift for learner cooks


The River Cottage Family Cookbook

This is a great book for people with kids who want to cook, as it’s written in a way that’s really accessible for kids to read and follow, but not in a patronising way. It’s also great building blocks of cooking so allowing them to move beyond the basics and produce “proper” meals. It’s also a great book for those who say they don’t know how to cook.


The Social Bite Cookbook


The Social Bite Cookbook

I give this one because it’s a good cookbook that does good too. I love Social Bite, think it’s the most fantastic busienss, and I am so pleased to see them going from strength to strength, allowing them to do more good work. Look, if George Clooney thinks it’s a good thing, who am I to argue? If your Secret Santa budget is £10, spend it on this.


The New English Kitchen


The New English Kitchen by Rose Prince

The subtitle to this is how to make your food go further, and I think that the year ahead could be a tough one, and that we might all be tightening our belts just a bit further again. I fell in love with this book whilst on holiday this year, and just think it’s one that you’d end up dipping into time and time again, particularly when trying to work out what to do with leftovers, or stretch a piece of meat to cover more than one meal, or more people. Not short on taste or interesting recipes, I think it’s a keeper.


Star Wars Cookbook - for great food in this galaxy and beyond


The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookies Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes

Ok, this one is a bit of stuff and nonsense, but it is Christmas after all, and I know that this book is always a winner with anyone with even a passing love of Star Wars. I’ve bought more niche cookbooks over time, but none more loved or laughed over than this one. Love seeing people’s faces when they open this one.


So, these are my fail safes, that I think you can gift to just about anyone and be sure of a winner for them, and also for when they start cooking and baking from them. I’d love to know what your go to books to gift to someone else are, and why. And what’s the best one that you’ve ever received and would not now be without?


My take on the Bake Off fiasco


Will there be empty chairs for viewing?


Well, we didn’t see this one coming! And it’s probably safe to say it looks like Love Productions didn’t either.

So, it was bad enough to find it moving to Channel 4. I think we’re all in the same place. It’s a BBC show through and through. I mean, we can’t have an advert interrupt the tension of a very tense dough rise. Imagine going to an ad break just as Louise’s gingerbread chapel collapsed?

But we could probably have coped with that. But no Mel and Sue?

Well, now it’s all crumbling quicker than that gingerbread chapel.

And the suggestion seems to be that Mary won’t move either. And without those three, then there is no show. Because whether he likes it or not, it was never really about Paul Hollywood. Before the show he was what? As far as I recall a patisserie chef at a very nice hotel in Cyprus.

But Mary has been a fixture in our homes for years, through books and television. She has more tried and tested recipes than Paul’s had floured baps.

Let’s face it, it didn’t exactly go well when he went to the US version, did it?

Maybe Paul will choose not to go either. In which case Channel 4 really have only bought an empty marquee, and possibly empty seats around television sets up and down the country. Why on earth all of this wasn’t worked through up front I’ve no idea. Or why the BBC hadn’t anticipated this day before now, perhaps when they made the big move to BBC1.

I don’t know why Love Productions thinks there’s a better home than the BBC, so that rather then leaves the question of money, which they claim it’s not about. But given the way the BBC has grown the show, allowing them to sell it overseas, not to mention lucrative spin-off licensing deals and a great many books, then you wonder how much more than want to make from it, how much more they think they can.

Not that it matters, but I think this is hugely misjudged, and only appears to be a question of commercial greed, which would appear to be backfiring quite spectacularly. The format change, the presenter change will all change what has been an incredibly successful, highly loved show.

I get that Channel 4 will recoup their investment even with less of us watching, because of what they can charge for advertising. But there must come a point where the people have dropped off so much that you can’t put up the advertising rates enough to compensate?

Who knows? Television is a weird old game, but I can’t help but feel that Love have killed their golden goose.

What do you think?


Help a bread lover raise their game


How to help a bread lover raise their game


So, it’s bread week on Great British Bake Off, and home baking of bread has certainly been through a renaissance. It could be to do with the rise of great bread choices from artisanal bakeries, possibly to do with those choosing to avoid wheat and therefore experimenting with different flours.

Who knows? But there’s still nothing to beat the smell of freshly baked bread coming out the oven, and then slathering it with butter. Ok, I know you’re supposed to wait, but where’s the fun in that?

Now, you could go down the whole breadmaker route, and if you think that’s for them, then I’ve written about those here. But I think a lot of us have moved on from that, wanting to really get our hands on the good stuff.

Starter Baking Set from Bertinet

My favourite baker doesn’t do Bake Off, but I love Richard Bertinet. Brilliant baker, great at demos, nothing to do with the French accent. You could buy your food lover the gift of a class at Richard’s school in Bath, but that’s not necessarily convenient for everyone. In which case I would say the Starter Baking Set would be a great gift. From a copy of Richard’s book, Dough, through to the practical stuff like a dough scraper, this gives them everything they need to get going except the ingredients.


Sharpham Park Home Baker Kit


If they’re experimenting with different flours, then Sharpham Park have got a great Home Baker Pack highlighting their spelt flours. Plenty to get working with, along with Lev Epeautre, a dried spelt leaven combining the rising power of yeast and the flavour of sourdough starter. The Spelt recipe book will give them plenty of ideas to get them going.


Beer Bread Kit from Toastie


For something simple but tasty, and with something to keep you hydrated whilst you wait for the bread to cook, try the Beer Bread Kit from Toastie, which comes with a tin of craft beer as well. Although it turns out to that is to go in the bread. But you could always improvise. Great gift for a real beginner in the bread stakes, simple to do, tasty results.

Sous Chef Sourdough Starter Kit

Sous Chef is one of my favourite sources for proper gifts for food lovers, and I really like the Sourdough Bread Making Kit. With a dough scraper, banneton and scoring blade, along with Dan Lepard’s brilliant book, The Handmade Loaf, then they’ll be turning out great loaves in no time. Well, no time plus the proving time.

You could always pop out and find some local flour from your nearest mill, and put it together with practical stuff like mixing bowls, which you can probably never have too many of. You could also get things like different seeds for decorating the tops of the loaves…really, the possibilities are endless, the results alway likely to be delicious.


The top 5 things I’ve learnt about cake decorating


My Frozen castle cake for a gorgeous girl


I spent a couple of hours last weekend creating a Frozen castle extravaganza for my friend’s 4 year old. It’s over 10 years since I attempted the same cake for MGG, and I remember it taking many hours, and quite a lot of swearing.

Possibly some gin.

Put it this way, I really felt the book was mistitled. I had taken “No Time Cakes” to mean ready in no time, not no time to do anything else. This time it took me a couple of hours to do the decorating. Which I think is down to a few things that I’ve learnt doing a cake a year for MGG for the past 14 years. So for all those who think they can’t (and I was definitely there at the start, and probably even now) then these are the key things I’ve learnt:

1. Cheat


No, I don’t really mean a Helen Mirren in Calendar Girls mussing up an M&S sponge to enter a competition kind of cheat, but don’t think you have to make everything. The version of this cake in the book had lots of piped vines and things on it. I bought snowflakes from Amazon. Much better for the theme, much better than I could do, and the kids don’t care. Squires Kitchen are my absolute godsend for these cakes, if I’ve been organised and thought about ordering in time.


2. Beg, borrow or steal a turntable.


Not for your cat to play on, or motorised, or any music playing capacity, but just a bog standard cake turntable. Could be the best fiver you spend to help with cake decorating. Certainly takes out the risk of moving the cake on the board as you work your way round the cake.


3. Have patience


I’ll be honest, I’ve never done one of these cakes in less than 4 hours start to finish, from the cake making through to the finished thing. And the worst thing you can do is think you’re going to do one of these in an hour. And then stress when you’re nowhere near finished in that time.


4. Be realistic


Not a good place to start for a beginner in cake decorating

Let’s face it, a 5ft high version of Maleficent in cake is probably not the best place to start if you’ve never decorated a cake before. I’m all for having ambition, but you will just stress yourself out. If you need some inspiration I would say a) stay off Pinterest and b) buy a good book. Whilst I joke about No Time Party Cakes, it is actually pretty straightforward, or you could try something like the Australian Women’s Weekly Kids Birthday Cakes book, which relies a lot more on buttercream.


5. The kids don’t notice the small stuff


They’re still going to react like that, and will be so thrilled. In fact there are only two harsh judges in this: other parents (screw ’em, it’s jealousy) and yourself. Be kind to yourself. The kids will remember these cakes, not for the missing detail, but for the fact that you did it. And really that’s all that matters.

So, if you’re inclined, then try it. And if you’re not at all inclined, then don’t feel like you must. I’ve generally done one a year for MGG, and very, very occasionally made one for someone else. Which is quite enough in my view. But it was worth it, as it has been each year with MGG, for that moment when the kids first see the cake. Makes it all worthwhile, for me.


Gifs from GIPHY


The Friday Five – from home ground flour to dough and beyond


As Real Bread Week comes to a close for this year, it seemed appropriate to look at books to inspire great bread baking, and these take you from the very beginnings with great flour, all the way through to fancy endings.


The Essential Home Ground Flour Book - great cookbook gift for a food lover who likes to do it themselves


The Essential Home Ground Flour Book

Here’s something I’d never thought of doing at home. Probably because I still have visions of Windy Miller (apologies to those that didn’t have childhoods in the 70s) busy grinding my flour for me. But as an alternative to mass industrial milling, then this might be interesting to do, and be interesting to see how different any resulting bread was. Though I can’t see whether in the list of equipment need it starts with “first, build your windmill”. Hopefully not.


Toast - great cookbook gift for a food lover



And once you’ve done the grinding, the mixing and the baking, then toast is one of my favourite things to do with bread. This book covers things like bruschetta, open sandwiches and canapes, so not just instructions for making cheese on toast. I like both the writing style and the photography in this book, definitely makes me want to get in the kitchen.


War Time Breads and Cake - great cookbook gift for a nostalgia loving food lover

War-time Bread and Cakes

Bread has played such a staple role in our diets, and this is a great book for those food lovers and bakers with an interest in the history of food. There’s a whole section covering how to bake bread without white flour, and then further chapters on doughs with and without yeast. Whilst I don’t think the national loaf of rationing was ever going to win on the taste front, I’m quite intrigued to have a play with some of these recipes, knowing last year I had fun making boiled fruit cake from a Marguerite Patten recipe of the era.


The New Bread - great cookbook gift for an adventurous baking food lover


The New Bread

So, from the old to the new. If you didn’t think there was anything possibly new in bread, then this book claims to know otherwise. This is actually focused on gluten free baking, which on the bread front I’ve had some very mixed results. It mentions baking with rosehip flour, which I’ve not come across before at all, so fascinated by that. Overall a good book for either those looking for gluten free, or just curious and adventurous bakers looking for something a little different.


One Dough Ten Breads

One Dough. Ten Breads

This is a great book for someone who perhaps hasn’t done a lot of bread baking, as it takes you step by step through a basic dough and loaf, and then shows you how to step that basic recipe up to the next level. You might start out with a sandwich loaf but this book will have you making crackers, pizza and country-style breads by the end.


I think there is very little that beats the satisfaction of making bread at home. There’s the stress relief of all that kneading, the practising of patience waiting for it to prove, and the reward of the house smelling of baking bread. And then more patience of waiting for it to cool just a little when it comes out the oven so you can devour that first slice, covered in butter.

That’s why I’m never giving up bread.


Real Bread Week Ahead


Real Bread Week


A little ironic coming almost straight after Coeliac Awareness Week, but we’re now in Real Bread Week. Though to be fair, good gluten free bread can definitely be both real and good.

In its 7th year now, this year’s focus is on how to help children discover the delights real bread, and particularly baking it themselves. They’re keen to get schools involved, and I really hope that they will, though I appreciate that not every school is now able to offer cooking. But at least dough could be taken home quite easily and then baked.

There’s some great resources on the site, including a good list of baking schools offering appropriate classes. If you become a supporter of the Real Bread Campaign (which is an interesting idea of a gift for a food lover) then you can get a discount on a lot of these classes too.

You can even wear your affiliation on your chest, with one of these limited edition tshirts:


On the Rise Real Bread Week T Shirts


This is the week to get out and support your local independent bakery, or perhaps an independent miller and make your own. Or both. Whichever, enjoy your bread any way you like, as long as it’s real! If you need some recipe inspiration, then I’ve written about great bread books here.


Searching for a blueberry liqueur


Bake Off Creme de la Creme


I blame Tom Kerridge.

Well, I blame Creme de la Creme really, as a recipe in their book for blueberry macarons asks for a blueberry liqueur as an ingredient.

Now, I have many flavours of things, but not a blueberry liqueur. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in my travels.

Thank heavens for the wonder of the web, as it revealed a whole selection of them, including some relatively local ones.


The Blueberry Co Blueberry Liqueur


From Suffolk, it’s probably no surprise that a company called The Blueberry Co might be a good bet as a source for a liqueur. Lovely, simple design, sure this would do the trick. And you could stock up on blueberry jam at the same time.


RubyBlue Blueberry Liqueur


Hopping over the water, then RubyBlue Wild Blueberry Liqueur is made in small batches in Co Antrim. They say it makes a great Blueberry Bellini, which I would certainly be happy to give a go.

Happy to give either of these either cupboard space, or as a gift. Although I think I can leave Corkys Blueberry Glitter Liqueur where it is!


Belatedly marking a 90th birthday


Let's celebrate


I had really not got into the whole 90th birthday thing for the Queen, so a very quick round up of some things you might like to mark the occasion with. Bear in mind, my approach to these things has always been slightly tongue in cheek!


Cath Kidston 90th Birthday Mug for the Queen


I’m not very into Cath Kidston, as it’s all a bit too country for me, given I live in the country. But I quite like her style for these 90th birthday mugs. They’ll go through a stage in about 5 years of being a bit naff, and then in 20 years time they’ll be really cool again. Invest for the long term.


Emma Bridgwater Tea Towel for the Queen's 90th birthday


I love a good tea towel, and this one from Emma Bridgewater is more classic in style. Always useful, and definitely decorative, and not going to take up a whole heap of space.


Earl Grey Tea Tin for the Queen's 90th Birthday


You might need something to go in that mug, so this Earl Grey tea from Millie Green might do the trick, and then you have a lovely tin to keep. Tins are always useful around the kitchen so a multi purpose purchase.


90th birthday cake topper


Making cake to celebrate? How about a majestic cake topper? I think this is very cute and for any matriarchs in your family then this might be a lovely thing.

So, I hope the Queen had a lovely birthday, it’s certainly a grand age for any one in a family to reach and I hope they spoilt her like you would anyone reaching that age.


The Friday Five – eggs-actly what your bookshelf needs


So Easter is hurtling towards us, many of us will be off today so hopefully a day for relaxing and catching up with friends, family and maybe a bit of reading. Keeping the Easter theme going, but not the chocolate, then this week is all about the eggs.


Eggs by Michel Roux


Michel Roux Eggs


Start with a classic approach from Michel, taking you through lots of versions of frying, boiling, scrambling, poaching, baking…basically, he’s got all the bases covered, and then some.


A Good Egg: a year of recipes from an urban hen-keeper by Genevieve Taylor


A Good Egg


Whether you keep your own chickens or not, or just fancy doing so, then this will show you what you could be doing with the eggs throughout the seasons. The recipes also include lots of seasonal veg and fruit, so very much getting in touch with what’s going on around you.


Egg: The Very Best Recipes Inspired by the Simple Egg


Egg: The Very Best Recipes


I love the cover of this, great looking design. Inside, it’s no let down, as the recipes are good too. From the basics, through breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then sauces, puddings and drinks, truly giving you something for everyone, on every occasion


Take a Box of Eggs


Take a Box of Eggs


This one is a bit more involved cooking, so leaving out the basics, and moving onto recipes with eggs in. So, you’ll find recipes for Salad Niçoise and frittatas, and things like a Spanish almond cake. I would say this wasn’t a bad alternative student cookbook, as eggs have to be such a great simple food to have on standby.


How to Boil an Egg


How to Boil an Egg


Or maybe this is a great student cookbook, certainly a great starting out cookbook. In fact the full title is How to Boil an Egg; Poach one, Scramble one, Fry one, Bake one, Steam one. That pretty much covers it. Or at least gives you 6 days worth of variety before you start again.

So, bring all kinds of eggs to the table this Easter Sunday from morning to night, and not necessarily all about the chocolate. And you might even find enough recipes to last you through until next Easter!


The ten best St Patrick’s Day cakes


I have a feeling that time is going to have run away this year and I won’t get round to making a stout cake, or it will be a last minute affair later today. If you’re like me, then perhaps you could do with some inspiration for today, or advance planning for next year. So here’s 10 amazing ones that I found on Pinterest.


Dark Chocolate Guinness Cake with Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Icing


First up, a classic, Dark Chocolate Guinness Cake with Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Icing from Love Swah.


Guinness Chocolate Cheesecake


For something more like dessert, then how about the Guinness Chocolate Cheesecake from Eats Well with Others?


St Patrick's Day Mint Chocolate Cake


Mixing up the flavours and colours, try the St Patrick’s Day Mint Chocolate Cake from Created by Diane.


Leprechaun's Hat Cake


Look for your own crock of gold with this Leprechaun’s Hat Cake created by Heather Baird of Sprinkle Bake for Betty Crocker.


Kit Kat Shamrock Cake


You might be able to make this Kit Kat Shamrock cake from Michelle at with younger cooks, definitely a chocolate lover’s delight.


St Patrick's Day Green Petal Cake


I’m not sure this beautiful Green Petal Cake from Blog Lovin’ is really the sort of thing you’re going to knock up before tea time today, but it is stunning.


St Patrick's Day Bundt Cake


I love a great bundt cake, and love this green and white version from


Green Velvet Cheesecake


Who says velvet has to be red? Try this green velvet cheesecake from B.Lovely Events.


Peek a Boo St Patrick's Day Pound Cake


Surprise them with the shamrock on the inside with this peek-a-boo pound cake from


Leprechaun Candy Bark


For something quick, fun, possibly everyone can get involved in making, then try the Leprechaun bark from Simply Being Mommy. Then devour.

So lots of possible options to still make a celebration of today. Failing that, I’ve still got an emergency can of Guinness in the fridge. Party for one.