So, what kind of food year was 2015?

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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.

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My five favourite tea towels for the festive washing up ahead

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Are you ready for the mammoth dish drying this Christmas?

 

It’s Christmas, there’s going to be some great cooking and eating going on.

And there’s going to be mountains of washing up.

So, get organised, get a rota going, get plenty of washing up liquid and rubber gloves in, and then some really fab tea towels to slightly brighten up the task. These are my favourites:

 

Dry Hard with a Vengeance this Christmas

 

I write about To Dry For a lot, as they are brilliant and single minded about great tea towels. And you might not think Die Hard is a festive movie, but I’m pretty sure they were set at Christmas. Made me smile anyway.

 

One Prosecco, two prosecco, three prosecco, floor

 

I think this one is for quite a few people I know. And also possible sums up my drinking ability. Or lack of.

 

Go bold and bright with these tea towels from Joules

 

Add some brightness to the kitchen with this twin pack of towels from Joules. No one can claim not to be able to find the tea towel when they are this bright and this gorgeous.

 

Cooking is therapy tea towel

 

What can I say? Definitely I find cooking therapeutic and relaxing, although the drying up possibly less so! But I think this tea towel could be a good reminder of how cooking is supposed to be.

 

All I want for Christmas is gin

 

Anyone who knows me reading this will say straight away this is the tea towel for me. I couldn’t possibly comment. Should gin not be their particular vice, then this can be personalised as you see fit.

 

So, I can’t say these will make the task any easier, but will make it slightly more entertaining. My best advice is put the Christmas tunes on loud, and have a glass of something delicious to hand. Every three dishes dried means you get at least a sip!

 

Photo by Matthias Ripp on Flickr

 

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Seven starter gifts for the just starting out food lover

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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.

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Six Christmas gifts for the competitive food lover

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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.

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Doing the Edinburgh Festivals? My Edinburgh food roundup

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Edinburgh Festivals for food lovers - so many gifts for the food lover

 

I really wish I was back in Edinburgh, as MGG and I had an amazing time there last year. As well as incredible shows, from dance to circus, drama to Zombie science, we managed to fit in some great eating, food shopping and space for one or two kitchen mementos.

If you’re going to be there for any amount of time, then you might want to check out a few of these, or just need something to ponder on as you eat and dash between shows.

 

Tin Tin in a Tea Pot - the first time I'd had a beer cocktail. In a teapot.

 

Our Edinburgh Food Fun & Finds gives you the highlights of our trip, for eating, drinking and seeing on the food front.

 

Time to head to Edinburgh

 

I loved the Fringe for the sheer variety of shows to pick from. Overhearing a conversation one night made me reflect on what an Edinburgh Fringe show has in common with a small food producer. More than you might think in my view!

Whilst this was a Christmas post, in Buy Them Experiences Not Things I talk about the great food walking tour that we did. Definitely recommend this for getting to taste some great food and discover some places a little more off the beaten track.

And then this is just a hint for a great place to go find good tea towels, one of my slight holiday obsessions!

And if I could only see one show again, then it would have to be Feet Don’t Fail Me Now from Rhythmic Circus. Ultimate feel good, incredible dancing!

Photos by Zoetnet and Dimitry B on Flickr

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I don’t need new measuring spoons…

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But if I did, these could definitely be contenders!

 

Peacock Measuring Spoons

 

I love that the design is beautiful, but completely practical too. I think it’s clever, without being too clever. I found these on Unique & Unity, where they are currently reduced to £7.50 so a bit of a bargain. Lovely site too, lots of great things.

There are just too many beautiful versions of measuring spoons and cups around, but my stainless steel ones just keep trucking on!

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Should I stock up on French kitchen linens before I get to France?

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Coucke linens - fabulous French linens to make a fabulous gift for a food lover

Oh my, Sous Chef are making it very tempting to stock up on gorgeous French kitchen linens now. Not only do they have beautiful linens from Coucke, but they have 15% off until 30 July.

It’s no secret that I’m very fond of tea towels, with my latest one coming from Red Tractor on our trip from Australia. But my special weakness is for French linens, and I wouldn’t quite know what to choose from these.

I mean, I could go very traditional looking with the Rustique Bleu:

 

Couke Rustique Bleu

 

I could go educational with something to hand to check up on the source of my red wine:

 

Vin rouge

 

Or just something lovely and inspirational for baking:

 

Coucke les macarons

 

But there again, I could also get distracted by another love, and great gift: a lovely new apron.

 

Apron

 

I really don’t know, too many great choices. And if you cook, you can never have too many tea towels, and they are useful gifts for all kinds of food lovers. What would you pick?

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Planning a great picnic

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With a bank holiday on the horizon, we’re planning a picnic at an event over the weekend. Which means digging to the back of the cupboard for all the picnic stuff. Or taking a look at some of the new stuff that’s around!

 

Two person picnic hamper

 

If it weren’t for a gaggle of kids to cater for too, then I’d love this two person hamper which appears to have plenty of room for a couple of bottles, although not much food. What the heck, sounds like a good picnic to me!

 

Fleece Picnic Basket

 

Knowing our weather conditions, a picnic rug is a must, especially with a waterproof backing. I like this one, particularly with the fleece side to keep your bum warm on the ground. It’s also washable, useful for recovering from the inevitable spills.

 

House Melamine Picnicwares

 

I can’t be doing with paper plates, and am certainly not risking the china, so it’s got to be good plastic plates. I love the design on these plates, which are from John Lewis. Bold and modern, there’s a whole range of things for every kind of picnic.

 

Cold Drinks Flask

 

Now of course there’s probably a flask of tea, but equally need some cold stuff. Probably Pimms in my case. So a cold drinks flask seems like a good idea. Yes, I know all flasks can work for cold drinks, but I like the dinky little cups with this one.

So, we just need to sort out the food and drink, and hopefully the weather will play ball too. If you need some picnic recipe ideas, then I last wrote about great books in 2013, but think might do another round up soon. Anything other than some soggy sandwiches got to be on the menu.

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Not that many princesses dry the dishes…

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But I’m not massive on commemorative stuff, but I do like a good tea towel. When George was born, I had one from To Dry For, but they haven’t done one (yet) so of all the ones I’ve seen then I like this one from Milly Green best.

 

Princess charlotte tea towel - great gift for a food lover who likes to commemorate stuff

 

Of course, I don’t expect Princess Charlotte to get acquainted with drying up any time soon, but for the rest of us, a tea towel is a practical thing but it needn’t be dull or boring. And, unlike some awful china, it won’t take up much space!

Although if you do buy mugs and things, at least if you hang onto them for long enough they become sort of ironic chic. Wish I had hung onto my Silver Jubilee mugs!

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Putting Cornwall into your kitchen

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I miss living by the sea. In fact couldn’t be much further from the sea as living in the Midlands, but I have resisted decorating the house with a coastal theme.

Well, so far, but the homewares from Seasalt might well tempt me down that route. I mean, this apron is hardly nautical, is it?

 

Seasalt Apron

 

And canning veg is not a purely Cornish activity?

 

Canned veg tea towel

Although there aren’t many trawlers putting to sea round here!

 

Fresh from the Ocean

 

But if I wanted to have a very sturdy coffee mug, to warm my hands on whilst standing and looking out to sea, then this would be it.

 

Leach Coffee Mug

 

Now all I need is the sea view to go with it! Lovely designs though, even if your kitchen is a long way from Cornwall.

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