Look who’s at Lakeland this year


Davina McCall at Lakeland


I’ve written before about celebrity ranges turning up at Lakeland, some I liked more than others. This year’s latest offering is from Davina McCall, and I can’t make my mind up. Yes, she no doubt has a new book and DVD to push as well, and I’m not sure I’ve ever really forgiven her for nearly crippling me with one of her previous DVDs.

Seven minutes of hell one day, seven hours at a press show the next day barely able to stand or take the stairs.

But I digress.

There’s some interesting stuff in here, but it’s a bit samey/been done before. So there’s a pencil sharpener type spiraliser (did these last year with mixed success, MFL’s was brill, I had to upgrade to a more Hemsley type). There’s a personal blender which would seem to be Nutri Bullet lite.

And a grater is hardly ground breaking.


Davina McCall Crinkle Cutter at Lakeland


The crinkle cutter looks ok, and I don’t have one of those, and can imagine getting some use out of it.

But I’m yet to be convinced on the value of the others unless you really want Davina’s signature in your kitchen.

What do you think?


So, what kind of food year was 2015?


Seems an age since I wrote about my hopes for 2015 on the food front, when I was hoping that grip of the big four supermarkets on our shopping might continue to loosen. Well, according to reports, that seems to be happening.


#Backofchallenge - what food is lurking in your cupboard?


January saw me starting the Back of Challenge for unloved food. I have to say, I still have some of the things I took out of the cupboard then, although I haven’t replaced them and the cupboards are still somewhat emptier.


Chocolate Macarons from Drop Dead Chocolate - the most beautiful chocolates to gift to a food lover


February of course is about love and Valentine’s Day for many. I loved the chocolates from Drop Dead Chocolates, and would also have been very partial to a hamper from The Modern Pantry. To be honest, anything from the Modern Pantry would be great, any time of the year.


Beauty in the Juice? Or not.


In March I was being cynical about claims made for a fruit juice. I’m probably not finishing the year looking any younger, as I haven’t been drinking it, but then I’m also not siginificantly poorer either.


Favourite end to a fabulous trip of great eating in Australia


March and April saw MGG and I on our Australian adventures, and there were flat whites on many days. Although there was a reasonable amount of the local wine taken too. And a breakfast to remember at Bill Granger’s.


Cooked apple tart


By May we were focusing on heading to France, so helping the kids get into French food. I was also discovering that not every recipe book is well tested, and so recipes do fail.


Time for iced tea for Tea Jay


Praying for warm weather in June, then I was hoping for iced tea as well as hoping to get organised for next year’s World Gin Day. I was also being tempted by the Lakeland sale. Again. Somethings never change.


The best birthday cakes ever from my tribe


I had my unbirthday in July with some great cakes from the tribe. There was also a great debate about what kit was essential or not in a kitchen. Still think I’m missing some bits.


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


August of course heralds the start of Bake Off, and I was musing on the 10 things I had learnt from Bake Off. It was also the month I went back to school, and made my own gin for the first time. Amazingly, there’s still some left.


My fabulous bread basket at Cafe Einstein


There was a gin theme in September too (ok, I know, when isn’t there?) as my favourite Advent calendar launched. And it probably turned up in my round up of 53 hours eating and drinking in Berlin.Though less so in my roundup from Rugby, although that does feature eggs Benedict.


Make Your Own Bacon - perfect gift for bacon loving food lover


October saw Christmas looming, and I reflected on the six gifts that food lovers hate to get. I also did a roundup of kits to make your own foodstuffs, of which bacon was the most popular. I also showed how to get a cocktail through a letterbox, one of my favourite tricks of the year.


That's no moon: Death Star cookie jar, great gift for a food lover with a Star Wars obsession


By November, the countdown was really on to the new Star Wars movie coming out, and I summoned up the foodie force for a guide to the best gifts around for Star Wars lovers. There’s also my top ten gifts for food lovers who love to entertain, just in time for the major entertaining season ahead, not to mention gifts for those just starting out on their own cooking journey.


The Best Gin Cocktails You've Ever Made. Apparently.


December was about getting ready for Christmas, whether the fun, with festive cocktails, or the practical, with funky tea towels for the drying up ahead. Not to mention my usual roundup of options if you had forgotten that Christmas was just around the corner.

Definitely a year of contrasts, and new adventures on several continents, but some great eating with good company, at our own tables and away from home too. Here’s hoping for more of the same in 2016. What are your food memories of 2015? Would love to know.


Gifts for the gadget crazy food lover


Gadget gifts for food lovers

There are those food lovers who just can’t have too many gadgets in the kitchen, and the latest one is always a thing of wonder and joy. At least for a week.

Sounds like kids at Christmas with the big toy of the year. Which they probably are, just on a different scale and might produce some good food in the interim. Here’s some ideas on what might be gadget heaven for them this year.


Belkin Crock Pot WeMo WiFi Enabled Slow Cooker - perfect for the gadget obsessed food lover


Belkin Crock Pot Wi Fi Enabled WeMo Slow Cooker

I can’t find a source for this in the UK, which probably gives bragging rights if you get one delivered (try Amazon.com, they have it and may deliver). But basically this has all the great features of a normal slow cooker plus you can adjust the cooking time and temperature, or switch it to just keep warm or even off from your phone. Although presumably it’s less impressive when you show you’re changing it from the office and no one can see what’s happening!


Orange Chef Prep Pad for Ipad - perfect gift for a gadget obsessed food lover

The Orange Chef Prep Pad Smart Food Scale

Again, scarcity might produce great bragging rights, as struggling at the moment to find a new one of these, but if you can, expect everyone to be in the kitchen to see it working! This breaks down the calories, fat, protein and carbs in your meals, whether you’re making them or bought them in. There’s a library of 300,000 items, you can track and store details of what you’ve eaten…can see them becoming easily obsessed!

Cuisipro rasps for precise grating for some tricky ingredients

Cuisipro Rasps

Not everything needs to be wifi enabled, sometimes it just needs to be a different version of something classic that perhaps works better for the job in hand. These rasps from Cuisipro allow for grating of things like nuts, Parmesan and chocolate with ease, and with the built in plastic compartments with measuring units, you’ll have the right amount in no time. Available in fine or coarse, or a special one just for Parmesan.


Smarter wifi coffee machine for a food lover who really likes to wake up and smell the coffee


Smarter Wifi Coffee Machine

Back to the wifi enabled! Now, I’m old enough to think this is a bit like an updated teas maid for coffee for the 21st century, but if they love coffee and gadgets then this might be the thing for them. The machine can be controlled from your phone or tablet, and can set the grind and the number of cups it makes. I like it for the Welcome Home mode, not to mention the Wake Up mode. Now, if only it made bread as well. But there’s a gadget for that too. This is from the same team that made the iKettle, so makes you wonder what next.

Absorb Bin for a neat way to get rid of waste oil in the kitchen

Absorb Bin

Now, this might not be the sexiest gadget around, but this sits on the bench in your kitchen, just waiting for when you’ve got a whole load of fat or used oil to get rid of. Rather than risk blocked drains by pouring it down the sink then this is a quick and easy way to get rid of it, in an unobtrusive way. Different as a gift, definitely useful. Depends how practical presents go down in your house.


Polyscience Smoking Gun for flavour and theatre


Polyscience Smoking Gun

This is a gadget for producing flavour and theatre, as this is the sort of smoker you see on things like Great British Menu, producing smoke filled cloches at the pass. This is for the food lover who likes flavour and drama, not to mention some serious cooking skills.



The Smart Toast 2 Slice Toaster from Sage by Heston Blumenthal


The Smart Toast 2 Slice Toaster from Sage by Heston Blumenthal

This has to be the ultimate toaster. It has an easy quick look function, a progress indicator (perfect if you’re making scrambled eggs or a fry up to go with it), and a beep for when it’s done. It’s got a deep and wide slot to adapt to different kinds of bread. It’s also more than £100 which is more than my last three toasters added together. But still…if it’s a gadget they want…it is Christmas after all.

Let’s hope they get more out of these gadgets than the average kid from the average toy of the year. Or at least you get some good coffee and toast through till New Year.


Gifts for the independent minded cook


I love being able to write about, and support, small businesses which is why I love Etsy so much. It’s definitely a great source for something a little bit different, and is perfect for the cook who likes something with an interesting story behind it. Here’s some of my favourite choices:


Ducks Geese Hens Apron


Every cook needs a good apron, but there’s no reason why something practical can’t be beautiful too. I like this one, with its plethora of ducks, hens and geese.


Vintage Measuring Jug


They might well like kitchen kit that has got a history to it, and I really like this vintage measuring jug. Looks great, practical as well, if they can bear to use it!


Personalised large solid birch wood chopping board


Perhaps this one is a good one if it’s a family of aspiring cooks, and what kitchen doesn’t need a really good chopping board?


Sturdy serving tray perfect for breakfast in bed


The cook either deserves breakfast in bed from time to time, or will rustle up an amazing one. So a good, sturdy serving tray is practical, useful and lovely to look at.


Hot dogs and sausage dogs tea towel


I’ve written before that I think tea towels make a perfect gift for every kind of food lover and cook. I particularly love this Sausage Dogs and Hot Dogs one, could definitely find a home or two for this one.


Sarcasm definition mug


Every cook needs a brew or two to keep them going, so a good mug is always a good option. But nothing says it’s got to be twee and cute!


There’s so much to go at on Etsy for every kind of interest and preference, so you should be able to find something for even the most hard to please cook in your life!



Gifts for the make it yourself kind of food lover


Now, these can be a tricky kind of food lover to buy for, as they love to get into the nitty gritty of preparing food. They certainly aren’t going to love a pepper grinder. Here’s five ideas for gifts that might do the trick.


Helping out at Brays Cottage, producer of the best pork pie


Learn how to make pork pies from the best!

We love Bray’s Cottage pork pies in this house, and now Sarah is revealing the secrets to great pies and sausage rolls at the Macarons & More Cookery School. Great course, great people, fabulous location, so you could make a weekend of it. Classes fill up really quickly so check the site regularly for new dates.


Pro Q Ranger Elite Hot & Cold Smoker Starter Kit


Smoke it Yourself

Smoking your own food has been a bit of a thing recently, and it would certainly give them plenty of options on different things to produce. The Pro Q Hot & Cold Smoke Kit means they can do things like hot or cold smoked salmon, smoked cheese, possibly even smoked vodka. It’ll certainly keep them busy through till New Year.


Sixty year old sourdough starter from Hobbs House Bakery


Guarantee them great sourdough every time

Sourdough starter can be a tricky thing, but is essential for making your own sourdough bread. If they’re keen, then give them some vintage starter with the 60 year old starter from Hobbs House Bakery. Complete with instructions, this should guarantee you some fabulous bread over Christmas and beyond.


Chocolate making and tasting events at Paul A Young


Eat chocolate, make chocolate

I love Paul A Young’s approach to chocolate in all its forms. If you think they’d love some time trying some of his creations and then learning some of the secrets behind them then this could be for them. From a vertical chocolate tasting of bean through to bar, and then learning about tempering and ganache making, they’ll come away with not only a taste for the good stuff but new skills too.


Food DIY by Tim Hayward for the make it yourself food lover


The DIY manual for food techniques

This is the perfect book for MIY food lover, it covers how to make everything yourself from sausages to smoked salmon, bacon to buns, sloe gin to sourdough. So if you know they love to make, or the idea of it, but just aren’t sure where their interest lies, then this might well be a perfect gift as they decide what to tackle next.

Choose right, and you may not see much of them through the rest of the festive period as they get seriously into making mode.


Seven starter gifts for the just starting out food lover


Every food lover starts somewhere, not even Heston arrived into this world as an incredible cook. And the fancy to learn to cook, or improve your skills, can strike at any age. So, in case you have someone on the Christmas list this year who has just got the bug, here’s my suggestions of seven great gifts to get them going.


Delia Smith's Complete How to Cook - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover just starting out


Delia’s Complete How to Cook

I know there are newer chefs, newer writers, but in my book, you can’t beat Delia particularly for getting all the basics right and then building on them. I still have the forerunner to this, Delia’s Complete Cookery Course, and refer to it to this day. Great gift for both a food lover at the start of their cooking journey and for a more experienced cook just to enjoy revisiting or even improving techniques.


Le Creuset Cast Iron Oval Casserole - perfect gift for any food lover


A Le Creuest Casserole

I appreciate this is not the cheapest gift, but in terms of cost per use mine has been the best investment I ever made. I bought it about 25 years ago, use it regularly and it’s still, other than the knob on the top having given way, as good as new. That said, I’ve just bought a version from Sainsburys which seems reasonable, but will have to come back in 25 years time to see if it’s still as good!


Salter Disc Add and Weigh Kitchen Scales - perfect gift for a food lover who likes to be precise

Digital add & weigh scales

I think there is no shame in following recipes, we don’t all instinctively know what’s the right thing or amount. Digital scales are a must to me, particularly if they move onto baking, and I love add and weigh ones. There’s a huge variety of them around, I like these simple ones from Salter.


Measuring cups, spoons or jugs, all will earn their place in a food lover's kitchen

Measuring cups and spoons

I think these are useful to have, particularly as your repertoire grows, and you may end up with American cookbooks and recipes. I have a long standing, very dull but perfectly functional set of stainless steel ones, along with some measuring spoons, and use them endlessly. There are all kinds of sets, from the functional, to the very pretty, to the most popular ever. Take your pick, you can probably find a set to match their interests. I’ve even found Star Wars ones.


Mason Cash Mixing Bowls perfect gift for any food lover

Mixing Bowls

Whatever you’re learning to cook, you’re bound to need mixing bowls. You could go old school Mason cash or imitators, although I find they are too heavy for me now. I really like just decent plastic bowls or some stainless steel ones (good for marinading meat). Small, medium, large, any combination will be useful.


Wooden Spoons and Silicone Spatulas

You can never have too many of either in my view. Be generous and get a few of each, they’re available everywhere at every kind of price point.


Peep Double Oven Glove from Herdy - a colourful gift for a food lover


Oven gloves

Again, a bit like the measuring cups, you can find something for everyone in this very necessary bit of kit (even real cooks can’t pull blisteringly hot pans from the oven bare handed). I’ve written about all kinds before, from plain to pretty and everything in between, including ones attached to your apron. Although I can’t find a Star Wars one. Surely a Darth Vader oven glove would be a winner?

With all of these you could combine to make your own interesting starter kit, making a very personalised gift for a food lover starting out. You don’t even have to buy new, vintage versions of some of these could be very appealing.


Six Christmas gifts for the competitive food lover


Who is getting competitive on the food front? Great gifts for competitive food lovers


Over the next few weeks I’m going to be bringing you suggestions for Christmas gifts for different kinds of food lovers. Titles might be slightly tongue in cheek, but you might recognise some characteristics of those on your shopping list.

So, I’m starting with the competitive food lover. For them, it’s all about the bragging rights. Newest, biggest, dearest, weirdest…oh yes, somewhere tastiest might come into it too! It’s about ticking things off to show off what a great food lover they are. Here’s six that might do the trick:


Tefal Cuisine Companion and Eat Like a Londoner - perfect gifts for competitive food lovers


Tefal Cuisine Companion

So, this is gadget bragging rights, as this has been one of the gadgets of the year, and does practically everything except get the shopping in! It says it creates incredible meals at the touch of the button, making it sound like something out of Star Trek to me. It apparently chops, whips, mixes, kneads, cooks, steams, blends, stirs, emulsifies, whisks, sears, crushes, mills, sings, dances…oh, hold on, made the last bit up. But they’ll love showing off just what this can do.


Eat Like a Londoner

Oh, they’ll love this kind of book. Probably not really for ideas but for the satisfaction on Christmas Day of going through it and ticking off all the ones they’ve been to. It’s all about the stories they can tell, good or bad, about why they agree or not with those included. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll bring up one or two new ideas, in which case they might feel a bit miffed that they’ve not been there already!


The most expensive gin, and a perfect flask for carrying it around chilled to perfection - perfect gifts for a competitive food lover

Monkey47 Schwarzwald Gin

According to Forbes, Monkey47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin is the world’s most expensive gin. Possibly why even I haven’t tried it. Now, this is £37.95 at The Whisky Exchange, and is most definitely not the most expensive gin they carry. At £299, then there is a rare bottle of 1950s Gordon’s Dry Gin, but I’m not sure if you’d drink it.

But if we’re not talking an antique bottle, then maybe ignore Forbes, and try the Spring Gin Gentleman’s Cut, a snip at £77.45. Or you could just book them into Gin School, and they’d getting the bragging rights of their very own distilled gin.


Vinnebago Vacuum Flask

They’re probably going to have great wine, good tea and coffee, even brilliantly mixed cocktails. So, when they’re heading into the great outdoors, then not just any flask is going to do the trick. The Vinnebago is not just stylish in design, but will keeps cool for 25 hours. This apparently has 3 layers of insulation and is apparently unbeatable on the keeping cool or warm front.

Brindisa Iberico Bellota Ham - perfect gift for a competitive food lover

Iberico Bellota Ham

Now this is going to look impressive when people come round and they get to carve some of their own Iberico ham. I mean, this is the good stuff, a real treat, but they’ll love not only the story of how great this ranks in the world of great ingredients but the theatre of it. Brindisa would be my supplier of choice in the UK.



Al Fresco Lunch at The Three Chimneys

The Three Chimneys

I was thinking about an experience you could get them, as then there are stories to be told again. So I chose not just any Michelin starred venue but The Three Chimneys. There’d be the tale of getting there, of crossing the water to it, the beauty of its surroundings, and that’s before you even get to the food. And if you’re going for it, then book a night there as well, as the rooms look incredible too. Not cheap, so this would need to be a special gift for a special Christmas.

So, whatever you choose for them, think about the stories that their gift will enable them to tell. Hopefully not endlessly though. Buy yourself earplugs if that’s a risk.


Great photo by Jair Cabal on Flickr.


What gadgets are Good Housekeeping backing for our kitchens?


Good Housekeeping magazine, must be a sign of my age that I really enjoy this now


I think it must be my age, but I rather sneakily enjoy Good Housekeeping these days. I don’t have a subscription, that might be a step too far, but I do read them when I come across them.

This month’s has an a to z, best of the best of their tried and tested household gadgets, and I was fascinated, obviously, by those they had chosen for our kitchens:


The Boss Blender - well, it certainly does a lot


The Boss Blender from Sage by Heston Blumenthal – blimey, at only a penny off £500 I’d want this to be damned good! To be fair, it is a bit more than just a blender, as it will heat your soups or smoothies that you make if you want to. Still, I’d have to really like soup a lot to spend this kind of money. I’ve got a £30 bog standard blender, and a pan. That’ll do me for now.


Nespresso Latissima Coffee Machine


De’Longhi Nespresso Latissima+ -I’m not a massive fan of pod machines, though I get that they are easy, convenient and mess-free. Apparently if that’s key for you, then this apparently is the business.


Magimix 5200 Food Processor


Magimix Cuisine System 5200XL Food Processor – gosh, this one seems to have lots of accessories, not to mention three bowls with it, which is perhaps what you’re paying £339 for. But sounds like it’s well built, so it should last you well through lots of processing.


Breville Illuminated Kettle - is fun useful in a kettle?


BrevilleVKJ595 Spectra Illumination BRITA Filter Kettle – not sure how I feel about this one, and even Good Housekeeping say that the illuminating kettle casing “adds an element of fun”. It’s a kettle, I’m  not sure I need it to be fun. Built in filter is a good thing, only 1 litre capacity is ok for me on my own, but possibly not quite so much when the hordes descend.

Le Creuset Toughened Non Stick Pan range – I love my Le Creuset casserole dish, I’ve had it nearly 30 years and it’s still going strong. I can see why these pans might well have come out on top of the testing, even though they are heavy. I’d pick these as well.

KitchenAid 2 Slice Toaster -ok, on principle I am not having one of these. I’m a Kenwood girl, not a KitchenAid. And I don’t care how good it is, I’m not spending £100 on a toaster.

I am sure that all of these are as fantastic as the testing proves them to be, although I think for many of us they are going be out of range from a budget perspective. Their website gives more reviews of all the items in each category, so you might be able to find something within whatever your budget is.

Now, I’m just off to check out the secrets of the GH Kitchen.


Time for the last ice creams of summer?


Well, Bank Holiday Monday seemed to be a bit of a wash out in most places across the UK, so ice cream sales might have been reduced. But if you wanted to make your own, then I highly recommend “The Art of Making Gelato” by Morgan Morano.


The art of making Gelato


Now, I’ve not tested out any of these recipes, but my, the flavours sound amazing, I wouldn’t know where to begin. From the basics, including chocolate and espresso, through Italian classics like cherry and cinnamon and onto more unusual things like jasmine, biscoff and apple pie.

I am mentally clearing space in my freezer as I write!


Cuisinart ice cream maker - great gift for a food lover who really loves their ice cream


The gold standard of ice cream makers is still the Cuisinart Professional for me, if you have space on the counter to keep it out. Still, at just under £250 you’ve got to really like ice cream. That said, Magimix do a version for under £45, and I’m considering the ice cream maker attachment for my Kenwood Chef.

Maybe the weather will pick up, maybe it won’t. But every day can feel sunnier with good ice cream!


Have your most used kitchen gadgets changed?


I had a Twitter conversation at the weekend with Patricia Davidson of Glamour Sleuth about an old blog post of mine that had resurfaced about kitchen gadgets.


Panasonic Breadmaker - for the best smells a kitchen can emit!


It’s five years since I wrote the original post, and it was funny to look back on what was on the list then, and what I’d take off now and put on now. I mean, the breadmaker moved out a few years ago, and I’ve never missed it. Whereas the Kenwood Chef arrived three years ago, and I’m never giving that up.

No, KitchenAid, not even if you send me one!

There’s a Magimix food processor in the house now, replacing the one that was here five years ago. I don’t use it so much but it does come in useful from time to time. I did upgrade my scales to digital ones, and have a fabulous pestle and mortar since those days.

Nuance pestle & mortar

In fact I would say there are two gadgets now on the list that weren’t on it then that absolutely earn their place. First off would be my slow cooker, which I love and use on a regular basis, and for more than just stews. Pinterest is an endless source of ideas on that front.

My spiraliser is a relatively new piece of kit, but for something that seemed a bit gimmicky I’m really enjoying using it, on a regular basis. Now whether it’ll still be there in five years time is anyone’s guess.

But I guarantee the slow cooker still will be!

What new to you gadgets have become indispensable in your kitchen?