The World Cup of Barbecues


What's your grill like? Or how to celebrate the World Cup if you're a food lover


Fabulous! Four weeks of football. Which in our house means 4 weeks of catching up on DVDs. And doing some cooking, hopefully out of doors. So my concession to the football is to offer up some outdoor cooking options from around the world, something to tempt the BBQ king or queen to try something a little different!

I sometimes still hanker after a traditional Greek barbecue, complete with motorised kebab skewers. I had to be convinced once not to try bringing one back from Cyprus last week. If you want to make souvla or souvlaki without the turning, then this is the route to do it. Planet Barbecue offer a variety of rotisserie kits, both battery and mains that they could add to their current charcoal barbecue.

For a different kind of kebab, you could treat them to their own tandoor oven, which would lead them to exploring different flavours. If they’re serious, then check out the serious sounding SS1 Ultima from The Tandoor Clay Oven. Or if you think they might like a project, then click here for how to make one from a flowerpot. A big flowerpot, I hasten to add!

South Africa has its braais, and it seems not only do you get a barbecue but also a potjie pot. It would add a nice bit of variety to your average barbecue to produce something from it, as the traditional recipes are for something we would recognise as a stew. Try BuySouthAfricaOnline who have a whole variety of sizes, and maybe a recipe book to help them get the most out of it.

Of course, the USA has such a big culture of BBQs and outdoor cooking, and I’ve recommended Extreme Barbecue a few times, as a great read as well as recipe reference. If you need to cook for 50 or more. But I think for most of us a Weber BBQ is probably good enough. Thanks to one George Stephen’s eureka moment, the Weber has stood the test of time as he understood some of the challenges most of us face with the weather. He also created one funky design, albeit a bit accidentally!

I don’t know what our traditions here would be, but I guess there will be plenty of disposable BBQs being put to use! I fancy the look, though, of Planet Barbecue as a recipe book to really inspire something different on your grill this year. Over 300 recipes from 60 countries, this should really step up their barbecue game! Or try Outdoor by Ben O’Donoghue, same theme, newer book.

What will you be cooking out of doors this summer? And what on?

Great grilling shot by mccun934 over on Flickr.


Are you ready for the BBQ season?


Are you ready to BBQ?


So, we have the first rays of sunshine, and the smell of BBQ starts to pervade streets and gardens around the country. And I love a great BBQ. But it has to be a good one. You know, one without incinerated sausages and burnt raw chicken. One like the great BBQ competitions in the US, or at least a backyard version!

Of course the first decision is gas or charcoal. I know the arguments for charcoal and against gas, but there has to be something to be said for being able to crank up the BBQ at a moments notice and be cooking ten minutes later. If you’ve got space, I guess you could have both! We’ve got a fairly basic gas model with a grill section and a griddle, and it can cater quite happily for 8 of us.

If we won the lottery, then of course we’d have a top of the range Weber. Have you seen the Summit S650? I swear I had smaller rooms when I was younger! Six burners,a rotisserie, two work tables and Flavoriser bars, not to mention thermometer, condiment baskets and tool holders. Some serious cooking would go on on this! Or more likely we’ll be having one of their Smokey Joe Barbecues!

If you wanted a mobile version, then I may have spotted the thing over on Lakeland. The Cobb Barbecue Cooking System is apparently set to change outdoor cooking forever. Who knew? Not only can you barbecue on it but also roast, smoke and cook. Food is healthier apparently as it’s kept separate from the charcoal, so you don’t get any burning or fat flare up. Certainly interesting, it would make a great gift for a foodie who is into the latest gadgets.

Got someone who thinks they are a real dab hand at this barbecuing lark? Buy them a copy of Extreme Barbecue: Smokin’ Rigs and 100 Real Good Recipes. They will be amazed, and it’s likely to stimulate even greater ambition for this year’s attempts! So, you’ve got something to grill on, you’ve got some recipes, now I’m going off to think about tracking down stuff to cook on it.

In the meantime, possibly best to on a good BBQ cleaner. You’ll be amazed at what you left on last summer!

Great BBQ shot by alisdair over on Flickr.


Valentine’s Day Foodie Gifts for Red Hot Lovers


So, the love of your life likes it hot and spicy and you need a great foodie gift for them for Valentine’s Day? Here’s a few suggestions to keep things all aglow.


Slap Ya Mama - cajun seasoning for a gift for a food lover who likes it hot


Give their BBQ moments a real kick with Slap Ya Mama seasoning blend. Invented by Wilda Marie Fontenot, this is Cajun seasoning with a real kick, and will add something different to even a plain old banger.

What about mustard that takes things up a notch? Cherith Valley offer a fresh, spicy version with jalapeno and cilantro. A dynamic burst of flavour that will liven up everything from a ham sandwich to a hot dog, and not to mention make a darn fine salad dressing.
Who says the English can’t be hot? Well Chillililli is a red hot versionof that very English classic, piccalilli, and will definitely spice up your cold cuts!
Even if they have a cupboard full of chilli, then they really should have a tin of El Avion’s hot smoked paprika. Adding flavour and smoke as well as heat, this is one store cupboard standby that I would not be without. It’s amazingly versatile and a little will go a very long, long way. Love the retro design of this tin, I am guessing it has been like this for ever.
Get back to some authentic chilli roots, with this great Chilli Lovers Gift Set from Spices of India. Chilli peppers from Kashmir, Reshampatti chilli powder, chilli oil dipping sauce, chilli paste…well, this lot should keep even the coldest night at bay. If they love Indian food, then this is a mix of great authentic stuff with plenty of heat.

Chilli gone barmy with Montezumas - great gift for a food lover who likes it hot


Mix it up a bit, with chilli and chocolate. Montezuma’s are one of my favourite chocolate makers, having shopped with them since the early days. And if you need some spicy sweet treats, then the Chilli-Gone-Barmy gift is perfect. I’ll fight you for the Chilli & Ginger dollops!

So, here’s hoping your gift is the start of a red, hot, passionate day. Or at least gives your everyday eating a bit of a boost!


Putting it together – the DIY approach to hampers

Be careful what you try to wrap up!
Be careful what you try to wrap up!

A few people have been looking for ideas on how to put their own hampers together, which I think is a great idea. You get to really personalise to the gift recipient’s own tastes, and you can spend what you want to. Here’s some thoughts on ideas for different themes:

For the tea lovers

You could pack into a teapot, or generous mug, all kinds of tea paraphernalia. I’ve already written about the lovely teas from Bellevue Tea, and these would look attractive in a hamper. Whittard have good tea paraphernalia, like a tea infuser or even a tea bag squeezer, not to mention unusual loose teas. Another option for containing all your gifts, or as an add on, is a tea caddy. I like the bright Union Jack one from Emma Bridgewater, or try John Lewis if you want more traditional looking caddies. And you should probably add some lovely biscuits or cake, just to set up the perfect tea drinking treat.

For the BBQ Lover

Assuming that you are not going to pack this inside a Weber BBQ, we’ll think smaller but still useful. If you want an unusual book, I highly recommend Extreme BBQ, definitely one for the enthusiast. I would consider some good sauces and spices, like the chilli sauces from Gringley Gringo, and I really like the spices and seasonings from Steenburgs. I would think of adding in some of the unusual things like the Indian Fish Rub, just for a change.  They are bound to need good tongs, and perhaps an oven glove. And then you could add something like bottles of ketchup, a squeezy tomato dispenser, and maybe the madness that is the condiment gun!

For the cake baker

You could wrap all this up in a cake tin, although I don’t suggest the popular caterpillar cake tin for this, too many bumps! I do love silicone cases, both for ease of use and for lovely colours, like the heart shaped ones from Lakeland. All bakers will need more wooden spoons, and you could also add in things like cookie cutters, sprinkles and sugars. I really like Splat  who have more of everything than I could ever need! You could also add cake liners, doilies and paper cake cases. This will be a really pretty looking gift.

For the first time foodie

This could be for a foodie in the making, or someone about to leave home for the first time. This isn’t about all the big bits of equipment, more the things you need to help make cooking easier. I would put things in like wooden spoons and measuring spoons, a kitchen timer and an appropriate apron (I still really like the many unique choices at Not On the High Street). You could even go for bales of tea towels and dish cloths, but I would also add some fun stuff like a good beginners cookbook. For students, I would recommend From Pasta to Pancakes, written by a student who loved to cook.

Just four ideas to get you going, a few more to follow pre Christmas. I would say let your imagination run wild, and think of using part of the gift as the container for everything else. Do just remember that you have got to wrap the thing, so don’t make it too awkward a shape!

Photo of one awkward shape to wrap up by harryalverson over on Flickr.


Presents for men, gifts for girls, but what about the foodies?


Reusable Water Bottle

I lvoe this time of year, as catalogues flood through the letterbox, I consider them research. I always have a sneaky look through the Presents for Men one, normally for a laugh. So without all sorts of cooking cliches, is there anything in here, and its sister publication Gifts for the Girls,  for a true foodie?

Well, sort of. Here’s my choices:

1. For a green foodie, I would recommend the BPA-free reusable bottle, so they can have good water wherever they go, without resorting to bottled water. There are 2 sizes, and both go in the dishwasher. Drink well and tread lightly!

2. For the BBQ king, or queen, then the Grillslinger gives them everything they need to rustle up great food except the meat and the fire. If they’ve had a lot of barbecued food, then they may need the full 60″ waist this can accommodate! Includes tongs, flipper and chef’s knife, and available in original or sports version. The mind boggles.

3. For the wine lover, or at least an organised one, then how about the dual zone, double door wine cabinet. Keeps chardonnay, champagne and cabernet sauvignon at the appropriate temperature, so no frantic placing them in the freezer or in front of the fire at the last minute again. Holds 6 red at room temperature and room for 12 chilled ones. A quiet night in at Tarver Towers sorted then!

4. For those who like their wine in larger quantities, then the wine box cooler could be a good purchase. They always take up too much room in the fridge, but they’re perfect for parties and larger gatherings.

5. If they love to eat out, then make sure a meal is never spoilt by a wobbly table or chair again with Stabletable. Brilliant stocking filler that you wouldn’t think you’d need, until you do.

6. For the grow your own foodie, then the Eco Potmakers seem like a very good idea. Convert old newspapers into biodegradable pots for your seedlings, and planting on will become very simple, not to mention cost effective. Put in a few packets of interesting seeds and they are good to go!

So 6 good ones to think about, and the others will at least give you something to giggle about!


Christmas gifts for foodies with no food involved


Crack your nuts in style


I love it when the Cox & Cox catalogue arrives, particularly now the Christmas one is here. Looking at it with a specific task of finding something for someone who adores food and everything associated with it is not difficult. It might be the only gift you give them that has no actual food involved! Here’s my choices:

1. For the home bakers and cookie queens, I would check out their cookie cutters. By Christmas Day it may be too late to give the festive ones, or it could be useful for next year. There are festive snowflakes, ones to make a cookie Christmas tree and also a great jigsaw piece cutter. If they are very artistic then they may like the gingerbread house cutters.

2. For home loving cooks with open fires I suggest the extending toasting fork. Can there be anything better than toasting a crumpet by the fire? Useful for use around the campfire too, when summer comes back around!

3. For those who love their nuts, then how about a fabulous chestnut roasting pan? Or crack their nuts in style with a cute but functional squirrel nutcracker. And for a bit of nut innovation, check out the walnut key which makes opening them an absolute breeze.

4. For lovers of liquid refreshments, I love the very stylish silver plated wine cooler. This looks incredibly beautiful and tasteful, as well as being expensive looking but without the price tag. A good edition, or for foodies who have taken the pledge, then the matching water jug is also very beautiful.

5. For the smallholders and keen gardeners with fruit trees, then the five drawer apple rack is perfect for keeping the fruit in great condition throughout the winter. You could also keep potatoes or onions in it, it’s beautifully made and sure you will find space for it somewhere.

6. For foodies with a love of the great outdoors, I would choose the “invaluable” picnic knife. As long as you don’t subscribe to the Japanese traditions, where you would never give a knife, it signifies the cutting of ties. If you’re confident in your ties, then this knife is perfect, particularly as it has an inbuilt corkscrew. Everything a perfect picnic needs!

If you’ve not got to know Cox & Cox before now, then Christmas is a perfect time to start. These are unusual things that you won’t find on every high street, offering something a little more unique for your loved ones.


Must be Christmas Countdown time: Boots Gift Guide launches


Christmas must be coming! Boots Gift Guide has launched, what gifts for food lovers are in store?


The launch of the Boots Gift Guide is one of those markers in the run up to Christmas, and it launched in stores today. No doubt there will be kids, big and small, busy putting rings round items tonight in the hope of Santa being generous, and buying into the Mix and Match three for two!

What about for the foodies amongst us, what temptation for us?

Before I tell you what I think, a bit of transparency. In my day job, the part where I have to stop thinking about food, I work for Boots at the main office in Nottingham. I don’t work in food, and I don’t work in gifts. But I do know who pays my mortgage. So, dear reader, please don’t expect me to round on the hand that feeds. I will tell you honestly what I like and, if I don’t mention it, then I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions!

So, as long as we understand each other, here’s what I’m thinking about!

As an overall statement, I would say that I would want to go and look at some of these things in the shop, to understand the origin of some of the things. Lets face it, foodies are big on provenance, and I would want to know where my olive oil was coming from for example. That aside, these things are looking pretty good.

1. Jamie Oliver Flaked Sea Salt Kilner Jar – you know what, this is a great stocking stuffer for a foodie. You can always use salt around the kitchen or table, and Kilner jars always earn their keep around the kitchen. There is a cracked black pepper version, which is okay for use on the table but I would think most of us would want to grind our own at point of cooking.

2. Kschocolat Night In Gift Set- can’t beat a good chocolate gift, and this both looks attractive and is decent chocolate. Includes milk, dark and white chocolate, and I’m quite keen on the sound of toffettes and honeycomb!

3. Jamie Oliver Crazy Mother Cooker Apron – because there are so many of us about! The kids one is cute too.

4. Faitrade Hamper – doing the right thing and getting great tasting stuff too. A nice tea time collection, with tea, coffee and cocoa, as well as biscuits, honey and chocolate. And you get two new mugs, so you can clear out those awful tatty promotional ones from the bank that are lurking at the back of the cupboard!

5. CAMRA Real Ales Gift – good one for the beer lovers, and possibly more welcome than a four pack of Special Brew! I like that it has tasting notes, as well as three different bottles of beer, including Coniston Bluebird and Oakham JHB.

6. Burger Press Set – we love our burger press, and it’s a great piece of kit for a BBQ foodie. A Boxing Day BBQ with turkey burgers possibly on the cards?

So, there’s 6 I would definitely consider. Although, to be fair, I don’t often buy gifts from Boots, as everyone always assumes I have got them for free!

Oh, and if you are looking for a gorgeous fragrance gift, shameless plug for this one here.


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!


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 – in praise of the burger


Always seek a good burger


This is going to sound bad, but in the past week I’ve had a burger on three separate occasions. The only way I can hope to keep up my foodie credentials is to state quite categorically that not one of them has been from McDonalds!

The latest one was at What’s Cooking in Liverpool, and it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t my choice, I am sure Liverpool offers more unique food choices, but it hit the spot after a bit of high culture at Tate Liverpool (highly recommend the Colour Chart exhibition). Service was good, burgers were tasty, and tasted of beef, and nicely chargrilled. Pickles were a bit unimaginative, but overall not a bad experience.

Before that, I’d had home barbecued versions. One lot were Dexter beefburgers that I picked up from Picks Organics at last week’s food festival in Newark, which were amazing. I think they were something like 98% meat, gluten free and incredibly tasty. Simply grilled to medium, served with some fresh soda bread and Tracklements Onion Marmalade was just perfect.

Although, that said, last Saturday night’s homemade burgers with Stilton were pretty sublime too. I am not sure if Colston Bassett would approve of their cheese being used in such a way, but it was delicious. And treated with respect I feel, as we’re not talking a slice melted on the top, but a slice through the middle of the burger so the flavours suffused through the meat.

So whilst the burger gets regularly maligned, I think a true beefburger is a thing of foodie beauty, and taste. I have no idea what the best recipe is, I just think it comes down to using good beef. Ben Watson wrote in last week’s newsletter from Riverford about using diced chuck steak, which is tasty, and very reasonable too because, as he writes, it doesn’t look so attractive and does need a little work. If I was in a rush, then I would just use decent steak mince.  And not a low fat version.

The one thing that is really useful for burgers, especially if you’re making for a crowd, is a burger press. We bought ours from Lakeland years ago, a very good use of £8.99. They’ve even super-sized it now, which means you can now press your own quarter pounders, so hardly excessive. Then the toppings are up to you. If I am being excessive (quite often) then I would be “inspired” by my favourite, the black and blue burger from the OK Diner, which is guacamole and bacon. There again, if your burgers are great, just enjoy them naked. Clothes optional.

Clothes I don’t think are optional at the OK Diner, which is worth a stop if you’re on the A1. You might think Little Chef dreariness, those in the know know it is a true American diner, with great burgers, incredible milkshakes and a brilliant atmosphere. Stop at the one near Stamford and you get the full aluminium clad diner treatment. And in France, I would still skip the golden arches and head for La Boucherie. Not fast in the McDonalds sense, but they know their beef, and the steak haché is a thing to behold.

So go ahead, indulge in a burger without guilt, just put taste over speed!

Photo by Stigeredoo