Sara Lee feel the return of baking?

Because even a 7 year old can bake!
Because even a 7 year old can bake!


According to Channel 4’s food blog, Sara Lee have reported a 22% drop in their international bakery sales. They blame people switching to own brand versions, but perhaps from their headquarters in Wisconsin they can’t see what’s going on here.

We’re all baking again.

Call it nostalgia or a need for comfort, but I see more people in the home baking section than ever before, and lets not forget the rise of the cupcake. I love a good baking session, it’s very relaxing to me. And it’s brilliant for getting kids involved in the kitchen. Who doesn’t remember standing on a stool, mixing stuff up and just waiting for the moment you got to lick the mixing bowl out?

If your foodie loves to bake, or if you’d just like them to do some more, here’s a few suggestions on things that might find them needing a Sara Lee chocolate fudge cake even less:

1. Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache– this is my favourite baking book at the moment. Every recipe I’ve cooked so far (and it’s looking quite well thumbed) has been greeted very favourably, and then with amazement when you tell people which veg are in the cakes. That’s right, veg in cake, and they’ve been brilliant. Chocolate and beetroot, courgette Victoria sponge, and clever ways with everything from sweet potato to turnip. You, and they, will be amazed.

2. Mason Cash bowls – these sum up nostalgic baking to me, and you can never really have enough mixing bowls. I love the look of these, although have to admit the weight of them can be an issue. But one I can usually get over. I’m a bit of a purist so want the traditional stone coloured ones, but there is a pretty pink one around at the moment.

3. Vintage cake stands – check out eBay for the real thing, or try Not On the High Street for some vintage looking and modern versions. A great cake deserves great presentation.

4. Silicone cake moulds – I love these for very easy cooking without worrying about lining the pans etc. Good to use with the kids as well.

5. A fancy tin – Lakeland have some amazing shaped tins, that would certainly cause a bit of a wow, particularly if you have children, big or small. Perhaps you could do away with buying the M&S caterpillar cake and make your own with the Caterpillar Cake Tin.

6. Sparkles and sprinkles – never buy a supermarket cupcake. Either get out and support your local cupcake maker (and there are some lovely people around) or make your own. For which you need fabulous cake cases and plenty of lovely decorations. Splat has one of the best selections around in my view and any combination will provide endless decorating combinations.

7. Superb jam – for me, you can’t beat a Victoria sponge with a great jam filling, although I am not a purist and love mine with buttercream rather than fresh cream. For me, it’s got to be raspberry jam, although also quite partial to blackcurrant. There again, could be a good marmalade for a marmalade cake. Check out England Preserves or Superjam for some good options.

8. A cooling rack – you can’t really bake without one of these, or not if you don’t want soggy bottoms. And, lets face it, who does? You’ll be amazed at the variety! Check out Lakeland, who have single, double, even triple deckers, and 4 stories that fit in a corner.

So, lets keep the baking renaissance going! If you need ideas for cakes with kids, then check out Hugh’s Family Cookbook, they’ll love the Victoria Sponge recipe as it involves weighing eggs!


What’s top of the kitchen charts?


I love a good top 10 list, I think it’s a remnant from childhoods spent listening to the top 20 on a Sunday night, waiting for Radio 1 to changeover to FM!

I was intrigued to get this top 10 list from Cook In Style, to see what they were selling well in these interesting times we live in. This is their top 10,in reverse order of course, and my thoughts and possible alternatives.


Neat, colourful & possibly useful - great gift for a food lover who's short of space


10. Joseph Joseph Multicoloured Kitchen Nesting Set – You know what, I quite like this. One thing the majority of foodies are going to have is a shortage of space, so anything to help with that is great. And these look kind of pretty. There are two possible issues though: one, do the bits that aren’t mixing bowls stand up to proper use and two, do they stack well when half of the things are in the dishwasher or full of leftovers in the fridge? If you’re going to buy this, then it’s cheaper at John Lewis.

9. Kitchencraft Magnetic Spice Rack with Six Holders – this seems both practical and stylish, with the dishes being decent sizes to hold big things you use a lot of, like rock salt and bay leaves for example. Good for a foodie starting out, and you could add some decent spices to this as well. I really like Steenbergs if I want to order online, or Spices of India for more exotic fare. Living this close to Leicester though, there is nothing to beat going to some of the food stores there and getting spices there.

8. Marco Pierre White Cooking in Hells Kitchen – a surprising entry for the only cook book in their list. It’s ranked 164,000th on Amazon, so I’m not sure on this. If you wanted to send someone a book by Marco, I would be more tempted by Marco’s Great British Feast instead. I think it has more interesting and useful recipes, as well as tapping into the seasonal and British vibe.


Useful & stylish little shots of joy


7. KitchenCraft Tempero Shot Glasses – I think these look pretty good, and serve many purposes, over and above shots of liquor. From small appetisers through to stunning desserts and holders for delicate flowers, these are lovely to have to hand. I like the mix of designs, as I’m not particularly into matchy matchy type arrangements. If you wanted something that might be even more of a talking point, then check out the ice shot glass mould at Firebox.

6. Outback Omega Gas Grill – I can only assume that they have sold these at a big discount all summer! I would say it was a little late to be treating someone to a BBQ now, unless you can get a really good one at a big discount. What about something a bit different,  like the American camp ovens that Pedlars have in stock? I think these offer up something different in outdoor cooking, which is bound to appeal to the active foodie.

5. Pink Flamenco Child’s Apron – ah yes, pink rules where girls of a certain age are involved! They do grow out of it. Mini Gourmet Girl is just heading out of the pink hues, and if you need a more funky childs apron, then I would suggest having a look at Not On the High Street. There are some great options, from personalised to ones with quotes from Plato and Socrates. If you’ve got a boy, or a tomboy, then check out the camo apron!

4. Brushed Nickel Fan – I bet these all sold on the very rare hot days we had, and have generally laid unused for most of the summer. Although now jam making is in full flow they may be useful for when you’re slaving over a boiling dish of sugar and fruit!

3. Ceiling Mounted Pan Rack – Congrats to those of you with ceilings high enough to take one of these without you knocking yourself out on the frying pan. I like having stuff visible in the kitchen, and to hand. To me though, this doesn’t make a great gift unless you know a) the person really wants one b) the kitchen can take it and c) someone has the ability to put it up properly.

2. Maxwell & Williams Cashmere Allegro 16 Piece Dinner Set – nice enough design, but in my view the wrong number of things! Even with two of you, you’ll get through 4 very quickly. For a couple, I would say 6 was good, gives you enough to have one set clean, one set dirty, and one set going round the dishwasher. If you need a first set of matching china, then I would head to Ikea for their basic white stuff, which is good quality, very reasonable and will go with everything.

1. 2 Lions Sabatier Milan Knife Block Set of 5 – this strikes horror into my heart. For a serious foodie, they need serious knives, not a block set. This is okay for your first kitchen, but any serious foodie needs to go into the shop and try out how each knife feels in the hand. In fact the only set of knives I could think would go down well with a serious foodie would be something like the Laguiole steak knives. That said, I don’t like sending knives, there is an old Japanese tradition that  I think is about not sending knives or scissors, as they represent the severing of a relationship. Not the best message for anniversary present perhaps!

So, there you go, probably this list is like finding Agadoo at the top of the charts. It says there are a lot of kitchens with some not fantastic equipment, which may ultimately not be the best use of what ever cash you have to spend. I would always look what brands and styles are already in the kitchen as a good starting point if you want to buy gadgets. That and something completely off the wall, like when candyfloss makers were first available. Sometimes, you just have to not take this whole foodie thing too seriously!


In celebration of chips


Chips with everything


Apparently, yesterday was the birthday of the deep fried chip. Yes, on 24 August 1853 one George Crumm made the world’s first deep-fried chips. There is no record as to whether he tried a Mars bar on the 25th, but for chips we thank him, even if our waistlines don’t.

Now, I’m a bit of a wuss, and have never made chips at home. I do remember the days of the chip pan, not to mention the ads on how to deal with a chip pan fire. The advent of the oven chip has seen the chip pan largely disappear from homes, and with the diet police taking a dim view on fried foods it’s no wonder that not many of us bother.

But when you go somewhere and get really good chips, then they are a thing of joy and do make you think about what you could achieve at home. I could be tempted by the very dinky compact deep fat fryer that Lakeland have, and I’d be looking for some great potatoes to try with it. If you want to try some varieties you won’t see in Sainsburys, then check out Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes. Can you imagine blue chips? Well, if you buy the Salad Blue, you could serve them up at home! Love to see the kids faces!

So, I think in honour of Mr Crumm, we could all indulge, just this once, in celebration. But if you’re going to have chips, make them good ones!


The return of the Hairy Bikers


Around Britain in 100 recipes


Worth staying in on the next few Monday nights, as the Hairy Bikers are back. They’re touring around the UK again, and getting to see, and cook, the best on offer around the UK.

I feel we have a slight vested interest, as they visited the village and spent the day cooking at the Red Lion. We forgive them for making service late that night, they were charming and signed one of their books for the village raffle. They even signed an autograph for Mini Gourmet Girl, although I am not sure how they’ll feel about being on the wall next to Hannah Montana and High School Musical!

So, if you had a Hairy Biker of your own, what would you get them if you needed to buy a gift? Here’s a few suggestions:

1. A Royal Enfield. Vintage preferably.

2. American Camp Ovens – perfect for outdoor cooking that’s a bit more advanced than a few sausages over a disposable BBQ.

3. A decent picnic rug with waterproof backing – put an end to damp derrieres, wherever you end up eating.

4. A corkscrew with a hint of humour – I don’t like gimmicks, and things must work well first and foremost. But I do rather like the Parrot Sommelier Corkscrew from Alessi.

5. A homebrew kit- so there’ll be beer ready for the time they get back from their travels

6. A motorcycle cake tin/jelly mould – indulge foodie recipes for cake and jelly in many variations but only one shape!

7. Dave’s Burning Hot Nuts – I’ve no idea if this is what you get from too long on the bike, but might be a good choice for those who like it hot!

8. A few nights in Bury – with a market like that on hand, where else would you go for a romantic few nights away? Choose somewhere with a mini bar, so you can stash your purchases, or get a mobile coolbox

So, here’s looking forward to few weeks of good cooking, no doubt a few bad jokes, and some good scenery.


The Saturday Session – pimp my Staffordshire Oatcake


For fairly unimaginative reasons, I was in Stoke on Trent yesterday, a first.

Well, Hanley, which is the city centre of Stoke. Confusing!

But, like any good foodie, I’d done my research, just in case of some foodie time out. And what results! There were three things on my list: pie from Pieminister (fail, the shop is no longer there), ice cream from Quadrelli’s (fail, ran out of time) and a trip to the market to buy oatcakes.



Staffordshire Oatcakes


Now, just in case you are confused, these are nothing at all like Scottish oatcakes. As you can see from the photo, they have the distinct look of a small pancake, and tastewise are more akin to a Breton galette. If you want to try them at home, there’s a good recipe and brief history on the Allotment Growing website. This is not just regional food, this the food of just half a county.

Most places round about served them stuffed with cheese and bacon, or any combination thereof. I bought 12 for £1.80 from The Original Oatcake Stall in the market, and brought them home to experiment. The bag also contained a very good looking black pudding.


So, I give you lunch today at Tarver Towers: Staffordshire Oatcakes with Black Pudding and Caramelized Apple.


Oatcakes with Black Pudding & Caramelized Apples


I have to admit, you couldn’t eat this every day, but it was divine. The oatcakes have a bit more body than a pancake, the black pudding was nicely spiced with good, uneven chunks of fat giving away its handmade origins, and the apple was a good combination of tart and sweet. If I was to change anything, I would use eaters not cookers next time, just as they would hold their structure a bit better.

Needless to say, dinner will be a meat-free affair! If you want to try them without getting into the kitchen, then you can get them by mail order from, who will send them anywhere in the world. What you do with them when you get them is up to you!


Bringing home the bacon




I’d been debating all day what to write about tonight. I had two possible subjects I’d been batting around all day, but Helen Browning made my mind up. She was on the radio talking about Pigstock, which is being held at her farm and pub the weekend after next, and sounds great fun. If you don’t know Helen (how could you not?) she has been producing the most amazing organic bacon for nearly 20 years, and you should be eating it!

There’s a music festival at the pub, but she was talking about spending the weekend with the pigs, even camping under a pig arc if you wanted to! The website seems short of info, so best to give them a ring! Sounded great fun, be brilliant with kids. Possibly less so with the vegetarians. And try the bacon before you go, it’s great. I always look out for her van at country fairs, much better than a lot on offer.

The reason I was thinking bacon was down to an article that covered Mo’s Bacon Bar by Vosges (one of the few chocolate brands I would bring back from the US). Sounds unlikely but I’m prepared to give smoked bacon and milk chocolate a go. Not to mention More Cupcakes with their BLT, bacon maple and peach bacon BBQ cupcakes. And for the drinkers, then it’s all about Bakon Vodka.

Yes, you read right! A premium potato vodka with a savoury bacon flavour, they say it’s the only one you will ever want to make a Bloody Mary with. Sadly, it only appears to be available in the North West states of the US, but could make a trip to Seattle more interesting! If you’re not heading that way any time soon, then I found a recipe for making your own here.

For more close to home options for the bacon lover in your life, try the following:

1) Check out the many tshirt designs on Zazzle and Cafe Press. I like the Haiku about Bacon tshirt and the Delicious Pig Bib for mini foodies from Bizarre T Shirts.

2) For a box of gold medal winning deliciousness, then try the selection pack from Ramsay of Carluke. Good enough to be one of Rick Stein’s food heroes, good enough to go between two slices of bread in this household!

3) Get it crisp and get it fast, with a microwave bacon crisper from Lakeland. Perfect for late night, post pub munchies in a hurry.

4) For an on the go bacon hit, try Uncle Oinkers Bacon Mints. Each one tastes like a slice of crispy bacon with a hint of mint for extra punch. (UPDATE, sadly no longer available)

5) Do it yourself, or at least learn how to. River Cottage do a day’s course of Meat Curing and Smoking, where you will learn, amongst other things, how to make your own bacon. You get food tasting and a two course lunch, not to mention being in the beautiful Dorset countryside. There are dates throughout the rest of the year, check the site for details.

I have such a weakness for bacon, I’ve even had to cook a few slices during the course of writing this! Lunch tomorrow will be spinach, mozzarella and bacon salad with a mustard and maple syrup dressing. Can’t wait!

Go on, bring home some bacon now!

Photo courtesy of Shawnzam.


Jam is the thing


Jam time


Blow me, after this morning’s post on preserving stuff, they were talking jam on the Chris Evan’s show as I drove home. Jam is the new rock’n’roll, with more of us giving it a go. They interviewed Fraser Doherty, the man behind Superjam, who started the company when he was just 14 with his gran’s recipe, about why jam is cool again. Not sure he knew either, my guess is the rise in grow your own, and also a comfort thing.

It also mentioned that the best selling thing at Lakeland is the Tefal Electric Jam Maker. I think I’m being told something, it must be Kismet. Going to have another look at it, before the plums are ripe and ready for jamming.

Why do you think jam making is on the up?


On loving Lakeland


Whenever you want to moan about the state of British retailing, then go visit a branch of Lakeland. Of course, I am old enough to remember when they were Lakeland Plastics, but they are about so much more these days. But one thing that remains is the terribly nice, mainly ladies, who work there.

I went in there today, in the pouring rain, to find a very nice lady handing out plastic bags for umbrellas. Lovely.


The Tefal Electric Jam Maker - easy jam making for the easily distracted


I then found more things for making jams and preserving things than I thought existed. I restrained myself from buying the Tefal Electric Jam Maker, although I understand it takes the stress out of jam making. Or, in my case, remembering to stir it regularly so not to burn the sugar on the bottom.

I did finally buy an easy-fill jam funnel to make entry into jars much easier, not to mention less messy. I resisted all the twee jam covers though. Which is possibly why my jam is always passed over at the Horticultural Show, due to it being in a recycled pickled onions jar.

I remember the time I had bought a jelly straining kit from them, only to find it had, in error,  no straining bag. And I had a pan full of boiling elderberries on the stove waiting to be strained. The lady on the helpline was very helpful, and laughed with me as I considered what I was going to strain with whilst awaiting the replacement she was sending me (M&S 15 denier as it happens).

So if you ever find yourself in need of an extra bit of kitchen kit, some unusual foodstuffs or just generally stuff you’d never thought about, then Lakeland is the place. It’s also one of the best sources of gifts for foodies that I know of. Not posh, but definitely useful! And such lovely people!


Stocking up on great foodie gifts


If you haven’t discovered Not On The High Street already, then now is a great time to do so as their sale is on. This is a perfect site for shopping for everyone on your gift list, from young to old, close friends to passing acquaintances, and from style queens to full blown foodies.

I couldn’t do justice to everything on the site, but just looking through the foodie elements of the sale then I would consider putting the following away for when you are in need of a perfect foodie gift:

1. Have to mention this, as I wrote about it the other week, but the Lime Squeezer is in the sale. A gadget you didn’t know you needed, till you had one!


Fab Fifi Tea towel
Fab Fifi Tea towel


2. You can never have too many tea towels, and they are a great stand by gift (they’re also useful as a replacement for wrapping paper if you are wrapping up things like jams or cakes to give as a gift). There are some gorgeous choices in the sale, I rather like the Fab Fifi Petal and Wave ones, which are just £2.70 each now. You can pay nearly as much for a roll of paper, so worth having a few.

3. I love a mug full of tea, and I rather like the ones bearing the legend “If you can’t stand the heat…” Too true!

4. For a touch of South West France all year round, then “A Touch of Aquitaine” hamper is a good purchase, with some great produce for adding a little flair to regular dishes, as well as a full blown French banquet. I am rather partial to Onion Confit, but also love the sound of the Walnut & Garlic spread. I imagine that on some decent French bread would make a perfect accompaniement to an aperitif, or two.

5. I’m a bit of a Twinings Earl Grey and English Breakfast girl most of the time, but if you’ve got an adventurous tea lover, then how about the Rare Tea Box? This is definitely not your average cuppa, and no doubt needs to be brewed and savoured. It’s an unusual gift and will give them tales to tell for a few cups to come!