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.


How to try 36 different gins without breaking the bank


Distill your own gin at 45 Gin School, the best lesson I've been to in years. Perfect gift for a gin lover


I do love my gin, and always have that battle between returning to an old favourite, and trying something new. And, despite writing and opinions to the contrary, I don’t get through that much so a bottle lasts quite some time.

So, how to get through a great variety of great gins without causing the bank manager to pass out? Well, here’s two gift ideas for you, that would give 36 different gins for about £170.

Of course, that’s still a lot of money, but when you figure that good gin is about £30 a bottle, so would only give you just over 5 bottles for the same amount. And when you figure on trying 36 different ones then that would be over £1,000. Possibly with a pickled liver on the side.


Ginvent 2016 Advent Calendar


First off, you can count down December with the Ginvent Advent Calendar, which will be released for pre-order shortly from Gin Foundry, and shipping next month. They say there will be calendar exclusives and new gin launches making their debut behind certain doors, as well as a return of some older gins that are starting to make their way back into the limelight.

Now, that sounds like a good way to get through to Christmas Eve. But what to do after that?


Eden Mill 12 gins of Christmas


Thankfully the team at Eden Mill are giving us the 12 Gins of Christmas, so keeping the theme going. With 12 flavoured gins, this will refresh your palate after the excesses of the Christmas table each day. Apple and Cinnamon sounds perfectly festive, along with Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. Apologies for the Nat King Cole ear worm you’ve now got going on.

Unlike the advent calendar, this is a perfect gift to be given on Christmas Day, as it also contains two glasses and a voucher for one tour of the Eden Mill gin experience. But I don’t see why you couldn’t gift it to yourself either.

I can’t see a price yet on the Ginvent Advent Calendar, but will update when it goes live. The Eden Mill 12 Gins of Christmas is available now for pre-order, priced at £69.

Limited numbers of both will be available, so best to get pre-orders in sharpish.


What John Lewis thinks you need for uni


Just after writing my last post, I was dashing through John Lewis and this little leaflet caught my eye:


What John Lewis thinks you need for going to uni


So, it seems John Lewis and I have some similar thoughts. I mean, a kettle is a no brainer to me, although I do notice that there are more and more “young” people who don’t do hot drinks. At least not at home.

But a food processor/smoothie maker/blender? Certainly not all three. And possibly not any. I mean, you might pack them off with a Nutribullet and good intentions, but do you reckon it’ll still be in use three weeks later?

I reckon the sandwich toaster is a much sounder idea. I mean, 3am drunken toasted cheese sandwiches feel like they’re going to be a much more regular occurence than 9am healthy smoothies. Or perhaps that was just my life at that age.

And a corkscrew is on there, but not a bottle opener. Surely just as many wine bottles come with screw caps as beer type bottles come with twist off lids, so why plan for one oddity and not the other? Or does every single corkscrew come with a bottle opener these days?

Other than that, the nation’s favourite and I are pretty much aligned.  What do you think? What’s a uni catering essential in your view?


A recipe box for true Japanese food lovers


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.


The art of Wedgwood, 286 years on


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?


My favourite things from the USA, for 4 July and beyond


Happy 4th July to my dear friends in the US, I hope you have a fabulous day. I always fancied 4th July celebrations, from a clam bake to a peach cobbler.

Whilst there are many things (well, honestly, one thing) coming out of the US that are most definitely not on my favourites list (not even my mild dislike list) then there are a great many things in food and drink that I do love. So in tribute, these are the things I’d be celebrating:


Pancakes at Clinton St Baking Co


Proper fluffy American pancakes at breakfast

Love these, favourite breakfast ever. I would be hard pressed to pick between those at the Clinton St Baking Co and Kitchenette as my absolute favourites, but many places do a reasonable pass at this classic breakfast dish.


Martha's American Food - great cookbook gift for a food lover of all things US of A


Martha Stewart

Because if I could go to anyone’s clam bake, I’d love it to be Martha’s. I think all I know about American traditions I had my first lessons in from Martha.


Time for a Tom Collins?


The Tom Collins

I do like my gin, and I like a cocktail. Or two. And I do love a Tom Collins, particularly in the summer. Which was invented in NYC in 1874 apparently. I knew I loved New York.


Amazing burgers at Annie's Burger Shack


The burger

I don’t mean a McD’s, but I do love a really good burger. But it has to be a good one. If I was heading out locally, then I love Annie’s Burger Shack in Nottingham, and for the full on US aluminium clad diner, then the OK Diner just outside of Stamford is brilliant.


Heston's Pulled Pork with Asian Slaw


Pulled pork

Sorry to keep with a meat theme, but I love pulled pork, or slow cooked brisket…really any of those really long, slow cooked Texan BBQ style dishes. That said, my favourite recipe is by Heston, and comes with an Asian style slaw, so a bit off the original, but delicious.


Alice Waters Art of Simple Food


Alice Waters

Because I love her food economy manifesto of “good, clean, fair”. When I’m not eating burgers and pulled pork, I want to cook from Alice’s books. And maybe one day eat at Chez Panisse.


I think I might opt for a cheeky Monday night burger, or possibly even pancakes and bacon at dinner time. Still works with a Tom Collins for me.

Are you celebrating 4 July? I’d love to know if so, and what you’re doing.


Strawberries in every form


Anyone for tennis? A good fortnight for a food lover


Well. it’s People’s Saturday at Wimbledon. It’s not been brilliant so far on the weather front, so if it’s dry then there should be an awful lot of play to see.

Which would rather cut down on the time for drinking Pimms and eating strawberries and cream, so here’s some ideas on a strawberry theme for those who might feel they’re missing out.


White Chocolate Strawberries


Here’s a good combination: strawberries and chocolate. I thought these were so pretty, they’d make a gorgeous gift. Apparently the shelf life is a whole year. Like anyone has ever had them last that long!


Strawberry Daiquiri Lollies


In case it gets a bit tense during some matches, then how about some alcoholic lollies to suck on? Sort of like sucking your thumb. But with added Strawberry Daiquiri. Sounds like a win to me.


Strawberry Lemonade Tea Vodka Cocktail Kit


I really love Bluebird Tea, I’ve written about them several times. I really love their tea cocktail kits, and this strawberry lemonade tea vodka cocktail kit sounds like a great recipe for a perfect summer night’s tipple.

Freeze Dried Strawberry Powder

If you want a really big hit of strawberry, then I really like the freeze-dried strawberry powder from Sous Chef. You can add this to buttercream, to cocktails, to macaron shells…lots of possibilities. It’s definitely a gift for someone who likes to play with flavour in the kitchen.


Puerto de Indias Strawberry Gin


Wouldn’t be a post from me without some gin cropping up, so how about the Puerto de Indias Strawberry Gin? I imagine this would taste incredibly summery, and make a nice change to the G&T routine.

Of course there isn’t really anything to beat great British strawberries, so do get out there and seek them out. For me they just need a bit of sugar and some good cream, and that’s the taste of summer right there.


Getting ready for Wimbledon


Anyone for tennis? A good fortnight for a food lover


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:


Strawberries and cream cake stand - great gift for a food lover


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.


Wimbledon Tea Towel


If it all gets too much and you need a break from a tense match, then maybe go wash up the cake stand. Which you’ll then need to dry up, with an appropriate tea towel. Of course there are official tea towels from the official store, but I rather like this one from Ray Stanbrook Prints instead, encompassing the many aspects of the district.


Vintage Wimbledon Mugs


While you’re out there,  you may as well put the kettle on for a cup of tea. And you’ll need something appropriate to drink it out of. I love this set of four vintage designs from the London Transport Museum Shop, which is one of my favourite museum shops. Love the elegance of the game as it’s depicted on these.


Strawberry Tea Cosy


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?


Strawberry and Prosecco Personalised Jam


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.


Sipsmith Original London Cup


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!


The Friday Five – Great cookbooks for summer eating


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.

Grill Smoke BBQ


Grill Smoke BBQ - great cookbook gift for a BBQ loving food lover


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.


Leon Happy Salads


Leon Happy Salads - great cookbook gift for a salad loving food lover


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.


Byron the Cookbook


Byron the Cookbook - great cookbook gift for a BBQ loving food lover


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.


Vegetable Perfection by Mat Follas


Vegetable Perfection - great cookbook gift for a veggie loving food lover


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.


Mary Berry One Step Ahead


Mary Berry One Step Ahead - great cookbook gift for an organised food lover


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?


Cornflowers for Global ALS/MND Awareness Day


Cornflowers for hope for MND


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.


Wildflower Tea Towel


So I think that perhaps I’m going to buy this lovely tea towel and donate the same amount back. And then get planting ready for next year, with Sarah Raven having a great selection of cornflowers that would be beautiful additions to any garden. And then I’ll have put the kettle on and made a pot of Earl Grey tea with Cornflowers from Steenbergs.

But fundraising is key, to keep heading towards treatment. Every day, a step forward. Please consider giving to the MND Association if you can.