What do food lovers get for wedding presents?


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!


The Friday Five – Summer Party Time


Bring on the summer parties


It’s that time of year when we have a handful of birthdays to celebrate and also the thought of just gathering a few, or even a lot of, friends around the big table outside to celebrate the one decent day of sunshine of the summer. I don’t need much excuse to cook for a group, and often serve them up new dishes.

Let’s face it, they’re my loved ones, so you’d hope they’d forgive the occasional recipe mishap.

Yes, Mat, I know, you hated my gluten free bread.

It was 8 years ago.

I think you have to let it go.

So, if you fancy some inspiration for a big gathering, here’s five great books to give you plenty of ideas to keep you entertained as a cook, not just your guests.


Cook up a Feast with Mary Berry & Lucy Young


Cook up a Feast

Let’s face it, Mary Berry has definitely cooked up a few gatherings in her time, and given how long her writing relationship with Lucy has been, then these two know a thing about tried and tested crowd pleasing dishes. I mean, bacon and water chestnut bites with mango chutney sound like my kind of nibble to stave people off whilst I’m finishing off cooking. And a Moroccan platter sounds like a good sharing plate. What’s lovely about Mary’s books are that it’s a little bit of everything good to eat, not in loads of depth but enough to give you some great dishes.


Mezze: Small Plates to Share


Mezze – Small Plates to Share by Ghillie Basan

Now, this title desribes exactly the kind of thing I love to serve for a get together. I love Mediterranean flavours, and a platter of great dips and good breads, maybe some cold meats, some feta and watermelon…well, it’s summer on a platter to me. There are recipes for cold and hot dishes, as well as sweet, so something for everyone. Or just make a huge bowl of something like the labna with saffron, apricots and pistachios and stuff for dipping and that might do the trick.


Party Perfect Bites


Party-perfect bites

If it’s smaller bits you want to serve, then this is a great book, without things being over-engineered or poncey. This has sections inspired by different cuisines from the Americas to India. Fun to make, easy to eat, more time for garden games. Or cocktails


Terry & George - Feeding Friends


Terry & George – Feeding Friends

I’ve never heard of Terry and George, but given Mark Hix seems to rate them, that’ll do for me. They’re apparently famous for pop up events and are apparently Britain’s most fashionable foodies according to some. But it sounds appealing in this is classic British dishes with a twist, a sense of fun, and they sound delicious. Also says the recipes are filled with northern soul, so as a long time northerner, sounds good to me.


Thug Kitchen Party Grub


Thug Kitchen Party Grub: Eat Clean, Party Hard

A summer party does not mean huge chunks of grilled meat for some. I featured Thug Kitchen’s first book, and this one covers how to make vegan parties inspiring and delicious. Starting at breakfast, this runs all the way through amazing dinners to desserts and even the cocktails. Irreverent but delicious ideas.

So, it’s been a pretty rubbish summer so far, so let’s hope there are some sunny days ahead to enjoy food outdoors, jugs of Pimms, some cold beers, the sound of Jenga blocks collapsing and general laughter and merriment. Sounds like bliss to me. What’s your standby summer party dish?


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?


Nourishing Noodles for Super Suppers


Nourishing Noodles by Chris Anca - great cookbook gift for a food lover


Now, I know I was late to the spiraliser party, but I do now love mine, and use it on a fairly regular basis for a variety of dishes. So I was really happy to get a copy of Nourishing Noodles by Chris Anca, which covers everything from breakfast to desserts.

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).


Nourishing Noodles creating super suppers


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.

So I think this is a great book for vegan food or for spiraliser lovers, and I’m looking forward to doing more from this one. I can also highly recommend Inspiralized by Ali Maffucci, we really love the Blueberry Sweet Potato Waffle from this one.


The Friday Five – great cookbooks for great dads


To finish off this year’s round up of great gifts for Dads, then these are 5 cookbooks that I think Dads might relate to and want to get into kitchen and start getting stuck into.


Bake It Yourself by Richard Burr - great cookbook gift for a food lover with a baking habit


BIY: Bake It Yourself by Richard Burr

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.


Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys - a great cookbook gift for a food lover with a big appetite

Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys by Lucinda Scala Quinn

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.


Tom's Table: My Favourite Everyday Recipes - great cookbook gift for a food lover with a taste for robust food

Tom’s Table: My Favourite Everyday Recipes by Tom Kerridge

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.


Low and Slow: How to Cook Meat - a great cookbook gift for a food lover with a lot of patience


Low and Slow: How to Cook Meat by Neil Rankin

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.


The World of the Happy Pear - a great cookbook gift for a food lover


The World of the Happy Pear by David and Stephen Flynn

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.





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.


The Friday Five – gluten free but not taste free


Next week is Coeliac Awareness Week, so gluten free is going to be hopefully top of mind, given the strides forward we’ve taken both in availability and taste of gluten free products. For those of you wanting to keep it gluten free on the home front, for whatever reason, then these are five that tackle the subject, but keep taste at the forefront as well.

The Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking


The Minimalist Baker's Everyday Cooking


This one is almost all gluten-free, combined with being plant based, so will meet lots of dietary requirements. Great looking food, packed with huge amounts of different textures and tastes, but apparently each recipe needs 10 ingredients or less. Makes it appealing and less intimidating.


My Gluten-Free Kitchen: Meals You Miss Made Easy


My gluten-free kitchen


Hmm, the last gluten-free cookbook I had written by a chef led to the great bread disaster, so let’s hope Gearóid Lynch has better testing and proof reading! But as a chef diagnosed with coeliac disease you would expect him to come from a starting point of great knowledge, and a good palate. Covering everything from buttermilk scones to a savoury pastry and an apple and pecan crumble tart, it sounds like it would cover eating like gluten wasn’t an issue.


Good and Simple: Recipes to Eat Well and Thrive


Hemsley & Hemsley Good & Simple


The Hemsley sisters irk me a lot less than others of their ilk, as long as they are not talking about bone broth endlessly. Their second book continues the theme of eliminating gluten, grains and refined sugars, but still manages to come up with things I’m a bit intrigued to try. I mean, cannellini vanilla sponge cake with chocolate avocado frosting? Got to give that a go at least once. Though probably just go with the recipes, ignore the pseudo-science.


Pure Artistry: Extraordinary Vegan and Gluten Free Cakes


Pure Aristry - extraordinary vegan and gluten free cakes


Talking of cakes, this book is about gluten free baking at the next level, but still approachable for a home baker. Emily Lael Aumiller of Lael Cakes make extraordinary cakes by any measure, even more so when you see they are vegan and gluten free. This books focuses not just on the cakes but also the decorating techniques, so perfect for a keen cake maker really looking to add to their skills. Out 13th May.


Chickpea Flour Does It All


Chickpea Flour Does It All


Really? Who knew? I’ve made Indian breads with it but not much more, but it appears I have been missing out. I’ve used it to make Indian breads, but apparently it can cover everything from savoury to sweet, from pancakes to cupcakes. Great book to gift to someone who likes experimenting with new ingredients, and chickpea flour is pretty easy to find. Check out the world food aisles, you’ll often see it labelled as gram flour or garbanzo bean flour.

So, whether through necessity or just a desire to try new things, there is no shortage of inspiration around, and these days the variety of flours available is growing, and much more accessible. Good luck, you can do no worse than my chestnut and carmelised onion bread.


The joy of cooking in a new apron


I love a good apron, and it’s always a great gift for anyone who spends any amount of time actually cooking in the kitchen.


The Joy of Cooking Apron - great gift for a food lover


And I also love a good cookbook. And they don’t come much more classic than the Joy of Cooking, which has been in print since 1936. So, combine the two with this apron from The Literary Gift Company.

You could also get a copy of the book to go with it, there are copies from just over £4 on Amazon, so a good gift for someone who likes their cooking on the classical side.


The Friday Five – cookbooks fit for a Queen


Celebrating in the best way


So I’ve missed the Queen’s 90th birthday by a day, and I hope she had a lovely lunch with all the people who were popping in. If Michelle Obama wants to pop in her for lunch today, then that’s fine with me too, she can be my surprise guest any time.

At the last Jubilee, I wrote about cookbooks from the eras of the Queen’s reign, so to celebrate this landmark, then these are cookbooks linked, some vaguely, to the many charities and organisations that the Queen is involved in, many of which will be represented at the upcoming Patron’s Lunch.

The WI Cookbook: The First 100 Years


The WI Cookbook


Amazing that the Queen has been around nearly as long as the WI, but I think they perfectly complement each other. I like that this book also sets the recipe in the historical and social context of its time, showing how the WI has actually kept pace with the times. Not unlike the Queen I guess. I love some of the chapter titles, like Keeping the Country Together and The Times They Are a Changing. I rather like this for its social history of British cooking, I’m quite tempted by this.


John Torode’s Beef


John Torode's Beef


No, John Torode is not a charity, but the Queen is patron of The Red Poll Cattle Society, which is definitely going to grow into delicious beef. And I’m guessing the Queen has plenty of cattle over her many lands, so probably knows some good cows when she sees them. It’s also a great book for learning how to make the most of every type of cut of beef.


The Royal Marsden Cancer Cookbook


The Royal Marsden Cancer Cookbook


Not the sort of cookbook I hope you ever have to buy, but the statistics say many of us will be directly or indirectly affected by cancer over our lifetime. The Queen is patron of The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, still seen as one of the leading cancer treatment centres in the UK, so expect this to come with great research and knowledge behind it, of what is needed at this most difficult of times.


RHS Red Hot Chilli Grower


RHS Red Hot Chllli Grower


As a patron of the Royal Horticultural Society, we are used to seeing the Queen at various flower shows, but of course the RHS is much more involved in all things horticultural than just shows. I like this book, it seems a very contemporary title given the growth in interest in chillies in recent years, not to mention the greater variety of seeds available.


Brinestain and Biscuit: Recipe and Rules for Royal Navy Cooks


Brinestain and Biscuit


The royal family’s links to the Royal Navy are very strong, and they’ve probably had many meals from Royal Navy cooks. This is a compendium of excerpts from the Royal Navy’s Manual of Cooking, circa 1930. Probably not one for Tuesday night after work recipes, but fascinating for the history and an insight into what went on on board, from the officers mess downwards.

There are more celebrations to come, and whatever your thoughts on the monarchy, my feelings are that the Queen is one of the hardest working 90 year olds around. And looking pretty darn good on it. I hope she got a decent lunch yesterday, I’m sure she did, and wish her a very Happy Birthday.


Marking Shakespeare’s 400th


Stratford on Avon - home to the bard


Not quite the same as your 400th birthday (Shakespeare would have been 450 last year) but there’s a lot going on this year to celebrate 400 years since the bard’s passing, on 23 April.

I wrote last year about how much I love Stratford, and I love Shakespeare too.

Well, certainly well done Shakespeare, there’s no longer an evening than badly acted Shakespeare.

So to celebrate this landmark, here’s a few things that have caught my eye, great gifts for literary food lover perhaps.


Shakespearian Insults Tea Towel


Starting with a couple of tea towels, as I do love a good tea towel. First off, something he was great at, a tea towel of insults. Useful to learn to cuss the slower minded with, it’ll have sounded so good they won’t realise till you’ve left what you actually said.

Greater Shakespeare Map Towel

I like this tea towel from the RSC shop, which shows the personality types that occur from play to play and the connections between the characters. Just don’t get this out in the middle of performance to try and work it out!


Shakespeare Character Mug

You’ll need something to dry up, so another way to get to know the characters with this mug from the Literary Gift Company.


Shakespeare Cookie Cutter - to bake or not to bake


And you might need a biscuit to go with whatever is in the mug, so how about making your own Shakespeare cookies? I guess the question is, to bake or not to bake?


Portia Dark Espresso Chocolate Bar


Can’t be bothered to bake? The RSC have a great range of chocolate bars, based on different female characters from the plays. Just don’t rustle the paper loudly if you’re in the theatre. I am very fond of the Portia, which is an espresso coffee flavour.


Shakespeare's County Ale


Now, wine and ale get plenty of mentions in the various plays, and sure the bard was partial to a drop or two. If you’re in Warwickshire then you might well find this on tap in local establishments. From the Warwickshire Beer Company, this is Shakespeare’s County, a light easy drinking beer apparently.

Shakespeare Wine Quote Coasters

Something to put your wine glass down on, these coasters have quotes about wine from the plays. “Have we no wine here?” continues to be a question on a far too regular basis here!


Shakespeare Not Stirred


Talking of drink, a great friend sent me this book at Christmas. Combining two great loves, Shakespeare and cocktails, I think it’s fantastic. I’ll be consulting this for something appropriate to drink to the toast the occasion. Shakespeare, Not Stirred is definitely a great gift, I can’t believe I hadn’t found it before I was sent it.


Shakespeare's Kitchen - get your own banquet ready


Of course you might want to do a full on Shakespearian banquet to celebrate, in which case Shakespeare’s Kitchen by Francine Segan should do the job. Beef Purses sound like quite the kind of thing Falstaff might have been fond of, and this covers every course and a banquet or two as well.

I’m told it’s pretty impossible to get reasonable priced accommodation in Stratford on 23rd April, but there are lots of events planned throughout the year. I’ve written before about places I love there, and I never tire of time there. Of course, there are plenty of tourist trap type places, but also some great eating to be had. And I still love a drink after a show in the Dirty Duck, you just never know who you’ll bump into.