Christmas in the summer at Harrods

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Possibly posh, definitely festive!
Possibly posh, definitely festive!

It’s tradition really. Christmas always arrives at Harrods whilst most of us are heading for a well-earned summer break. If you feel the need for tinsel, Harrods already have their selection ready for you!

What about for the foodies? Well, there are already great hampers, but there are always hampers available, and the current ones are quite summery, so hold on a bit there. You could buy the foodie in your life the gift of a festive Harrods apron or a cookie cutter tea towel.

For any wine buffs, then I would consider the Wine Quiz Box from L’Atelier du Vin. There are quizzes on Bordeaux, Bourgogne and Champagne, so as long as you include some bottles for tasting, sounds like a good night in! 

I’m not sure if my next choice is for a foodie who loves whisky, or a foodie who happens to love great photography, but it’s a fabulous one off gift! Rankin has teamed up with Macallan, and the result is the Master of Photography 30 year old single malt. You get a one off, signed Rankin photo, with matching label on the bottle of 30 year old, of which only 1000 bottles are being produced. Each bottle has a different bottle and label, but each one contains the same soft and silky malt, with notes of macadamia nut, vanilla and sandalwood. It is really not cheap, but then neither is an original Rankin. A definite special gift for a special foodie!

So, not huge amounts to go on yet, but I’ll keep an eye on the site, just to see. Meanwhile, off to count the pennies to see how far off we are the Rankin bottle!

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Foodie gifts as they should be

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After a couple of days of foodie gifts where taste may not be the absolute first priority, I thought it was time to have a break and write about real foodie treats! Really this was prompted by an email from Natoora, rather than continued loathing over the Blueberry Vodka Glass Slipper!

 

Selected by Neals Yard to reflect some of the best in British Cheese

 

I really like Natoora, I wish there were more online sources like this for great food delivered to where you are. They’re really good at French and Italian stuff that you think you can only get on holiday, but also at the unusual stuff from around the UK, and the really good stuff. I can’t imagine many cheese loving foodies turning down the British Cheese Selection: Colston Basset Stilton (local to me, and darn fine Stilton it is too), Montgomery’s Cheddar, Kirkham’s Lancashire and one I haven’t tried, Tunworth. At a tad under £25, this feels like a lot more food for your money than the Selfridges Xmas pud and brandy butter.

Artichoke is one of those things I tend to order in, and associate with, Italy, and don’t often cook it here. That said, I am quite tempted to keep a jar of the artichoke pate in the cupboard, it could make a very good standby for bruschettas and as a quick pasta sauce. I’d also be tempted by the charcuterie counter, but mainly for Italian stuff you don’t see everywhere, like Speck and Coppa di Parma, not to mention two types of Lardo.

And I’ve always thought it would quite entertaining, not to mention tasty, to buy someone a whole Parma or Bayonne ham. Imagine their faces when they see that one wrapped up! Do you think they’ll guess what it is?

Delivery is pretty good: next day in 2 hour slots within selected London postcodes, 24 hour delivery to the rest of us. Even better, there’s 20% off any order over £50 between now and 31 August with code AUG20OFF, so worth shopping in bulk or clubbing together with like minded foodie friends. Although if you get into investigating their great wine and beer selection that £50 will come up quite easily!

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I told you I could hear Santa!

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Oh yes, Christmas is coming!

 

Oh yes, I’m afraid so! There are subtle moves online, and possibly in the stores as well, to start shifting over to Christmas goodies. Harrods you would expect, as the Christmas shop opened last month, but there are traces at Debenhams, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges as well. I’ll do a quick review over the next few nights, starting with Selfridges.

Now, the offer isn’t huge right now and is limited to their hampers and gift boxes really. They are available for pre-order and will be delivered from 1 October onwards. The gift boxes start from £25, which would give you a Selfridges Christmas pudding and a jar of brandy butter. It makes a great looking gift, although it’s quite a steep price. When I’m next in I’ll check out how much they are individually, as I think you might get a lot left over to buy a nice gift box with.

If you want the full on hamper experience, then there is a large selection, with a huge variety of price points, starting at £60. At least you get the nice wicker hamper in with this! The photo is of the Earl of Oxford Street hamper, priced at £95. Selfridges describe it as an ideal luxury hamper, and the contents are pretty good. In addition to the Christmas pud and brandy butter, you get strawberry jam, shortbread biscuits, cafetiere coffee, two lots of chocolate and a couple of bottles of wine.

And if money is no issue, then you could have the £500 Open to the World version. But seriously, who’s going to buy that? I think that even corporate buyers might be thin on the ground this year. Personally, I think these are the sort of hampers that I’d be quite happy to receive, as I most definitely wouldn’t buy myself one. Or anyone else on my list. Sorry to disappoint them!

I’d happily make a pilgrimage to one of the Selfridge’s food halls though, and put my own selection together. I think that’s a much more credit-crunch friendly approach!

Tomorrow, I’ll bring you Debenhams, the opposite end of the spending scale, for the moment!

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Get out & support your local food festival

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Get out and support your local one!
Get out and support your local one!

My good foodie friend (her of the cheese making kit) and I went to the Food & Drink Fayre in Newark today, in the sunshine. I have to admit I went off with fairly low expectations as the marketing had been pretty low key and fairly short on detail. I’m always a bit suspect when no list of firms taking part is forthcoming.

However, I have to take my misgivings back (but not the amazement at their lacklustre marketing). Perhaps they got lucky because the sun shone, but there were lots of people wandering, tasting and buying. A big truck hosted a stage for ongoing demos and music, and also was being put to good use tonight with an open air showing of Mamma Mia. Hopefully the audience, with a little lubrication perhaps, will sing louder than Pierce.

Back to the food. The one thing that the outing really reinforced, beside the fact that I do love a potato roasted in duck fat, is that these are fabulous hunting grounds for unexpected and unusual foodie gifts, as well as immediate food shopping for the week ahead. There’s stuff you might buy for a “just in case” moment, as well as the more person specific stuff.

And I hate to mention the word, but once the kids go back to school in just a couple of weeks, you just know it will be downhill to Christmas. My absolute for finding fabulous gifts and presents of any type is shop in plenty of time, as rushed last minute things are always a) a compromise b) often disappointing and c) more than you planned to spend in the first place. So getting out to your local food festival or fayre now will at least furnish you with some good ideas if not actual gifts.

What caught my eye today? Here goes:

1. Short courses at The School of Artisan Foods – please, sign me up for every course, these sound amazing and are in the beautiful surroundings of the Welbeck Estate, which is also where they make Stichelton unpasteurised cheese. I think these courses would make a great gift for a foodie and cover everything from preserve making to a basic brewing course, hand raised pies and terrines and even wild yeast baking. Half days start at £65 with full days from £125, including refreshments and lunch. Worth travelling for I would say!

2. Poacher’s Pasties – these were scrumptious, a pasty of pheasant and venison.  You can get them sent mail order across the country, as well as some very good pate. Richard Glover describes himself as a whingeing Pom but we found him very dry and amusing, and he can’t half dish up a good pasty!

3. Chapman’s Finest Fishcakes – direct from Grimsby, making the most of the local fish and potatoes. There are very traditional fishcakes which were awarded the Gold Prize at the Great Taste Awards in 2008,  but I rather liked the smoked haddock with smoked bacon. Not available directly from them online, but they are at the local food markets in the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire area.

4. Spire Brewery – for the beer drinkers, this is a small brewery based in Chesterfield. We didn’t do a lot of tasting, but I am rather partial to a stout, so would suggest their Sgt.Pepper Stout, or perhaps the Beer-A Lynn. You can go do a brewery tour, and even talk to them about a personalised beer.

5. My Secret Kitchen – I’m not normally a fan of party plan events, but quite liked this one. Perhaps it’s because it’s the first one based around food. I’d not heard of them before but they are nationwide. We tried the red pepper cheese ball mix, which was retro but interesting, the balsamic reduction, which I can imagine being very useful and the maple caramel sauce, which was just divine. It all seemed like good food and a non pressurised sell, so we will probably book a session, get a few of us together, some wine, and see what we really like.

The other thing to always look out for at these events is the Country Market stall, otherwise known as the WI. I would always stock up on home cooked jams, curds and pickles. These always make a good standby gift to take if you’re going for dinner somewhere, although the curds don’t have a very long shelf life. Jams and pickles will still probably be good at Christmas, so you could use them as the basis of your own gift collection for someone.

Go find your nearest festival or fayre, and support your local producers! They need you this year more than ever!

Photo of Huddersfield Food Festival by Janet 59.

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The Saturday Session – pimp my Staffordshire Oatcake

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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.

Success!

 

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.

Hmm.

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 StaffordshireOatcakes.com, who will send them anywhere in the world. What you do with them when you get them is up to you!

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Bring on the veg box!

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Bring on the variety of a veg box

Due to a  number of changes in the our household, we can now go back to having a veg box, and more, from Riverford at Sacrewell Farm, with the first one arriving tomorrow. Now, tomorrow’s contents don’t look like they are going to present much of a cooking challenge:

orla potatoes

bunched carrots

bunched onions

butterhead lettuce

baby/true spinach

courgettes

cucumber

calabrese

In fact, the only challenge here is that MGG is not keen on cucumber, so will be seeking ways to hide that one. But there are times of the year when there are more challenging ingredients, which is the time that  I turn to the Dean & DeLuca Cook Book. There is very rarely a veg turns up that this book can’t convert to something great. If it’s not in there, well, what’s the internet for if not those occasions?

For the dreaded cucumber, then they offer up a Thai Cucumber Salad. That may just have enough flavours in it for her not to recognise it! Otherwise, I’ll be making tzatziki for me, and MGG will just about eat that, if there’s enough mint and garlic in there.

So, with or without the cucumer, I am still thrilled to be back with the veg box. Wherever you are, there is bound to be one in your area, and it’s a great way of supporting local farming. The Riverford network grows and grows, and there’s other big boys like Abel & Cole, but it’s worth searching for local options too. Signing up on a regular basis could be a great move for the foodie in your life, to ensure you’re never out of fruit and veg.

Although don’t blame me for all the cabbage come February! But honest, there are some fantastic things to do with cabbage, none of which are remotely like school dinners!

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Bringing home the bacon

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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.

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Wedding gifts for foodies

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From tree to can with Nudo

 

It’s difficult enough to get a gift for one foodie, but what do you do when one marries another? I did read a piece encouraging local delis and food shops to start wedding lists, which I’m all for. Until then, then these are my suggestions.

1. Buy something they wouldn’t buy themselves. I adopted an olive tree with Nudo for two foodie friends (it was more interesting than buying towels), and they really enjoyed both the bragging rights of their tree, but also the produce that arrived. Think about a particular food they love, and then look for the best, the newest, the most unusual and treat them to that.

2. If the honeymoon is not top secret, then perhaps see what the foodie options are. Many top hotels offer food courses with their chefs, so it’s worth getting in touch to find out the options. Or try Isango, they offer options all around the world for experiences and trips, and there are good foodie ones. How about private cookery lessons in Rome, or shopping at Parisian markets and then making lunch? A sunrise tour of Hanoi followed by a class in Vietnamese cooking? Any of these will make a real treat, and certainly be a few hours to remember.

3. If hampers conjours up visions of things in leaflets that the milkman leaves on the doorstep, then think again. There are so many wonderful options, and would make something nice to come back to post honeymoon. Not on the High Street always has some interesting options, like the Touch of Provence hamper or the appropriately named To Have & To Hold. This is lovely, but a touch on the expensive side, but you could steal the idea and put your own together for less. To be honest, nice glasses and cava and a homemade cake would be just as well received!

4. Whilst they might not have thought to have put it on their wedding gift list, then check out if they have wishlists on Amazon, which is bound to have a stack of food titles in it. If they don’t have a list, then either give them book tokens, do a bit of espionage on what titles are on their shelves and buy around that, or check out the lists and recommendations that get generated.

5. You could go kitsch, and get them Mr & Mrs aprons, perfect for side by side cooking!

6. If you spend time having a small glass or two of wine together, then you might know what their favourites are. This is a good chance to buy around their fave: same grape, different country; same country, different region; new maker; old maker. You name it, there are plenty of choices for you to put together an interesting half or full case. I like Adnams for something a bit different, or Weavers if I am in Nottingham. If you’re feeling very generous, then you could get them a wine subscription with someone like Laithwaites or Virgin Wines.

7. You could perhaps see if you can score them a table at somewhere they’ve been longing to eat, sort of date night for some time in the future. Depending on your budget, you could put money towards the meal, the wine, whatever you can afford. To be honest, with some places, just having the patience to keep on to get the table will be gift in its own right! You could present them with the time and the date within the cookery book of the restaurant (come on, name me a hard to get into restuarant that doesn’t have a cook book!).

So, there’s my lucky seven to start with! If in doubt, I would still go with the make them a big cake option!

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On loving Lakeland

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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!

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Stocking up on great foodie gifts

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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!

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