The Friday Five – Summer Party Time


Bring on the summer parties


It’s that time of year when we have a handful of birthdays to celebrate and also the thought of just gathering a few, or even a lot of, friends around the big table outside to celebrate the one decent day of sunshine of the summer. I don’t need much excuse to cook for a group, and often serve them up new dishes.

Let’s face it, they’re my loved ones, so you’d hope they’d forgive the occasional recipe mishap.

Yes, Mat, I know, you hated my gluten free bread.

It was 8 years ago.

I think you have to let it go.

So, if you fancy some inspiration for a big gathering, here’s five great books to give you plenty of ideas to keep you entertained as a cook, not just your guests.


Cook up a Feast with Mary Berry & Lucy Young


Cook up a Feast

Let’s face it, Mary Berry has definitely cooked up a few gatherings in her time, and given how long her writing relationship with Lucy has been, then these two know a thing about tried and tested crowd pleasing dishes. I mean, bacon and water chestnut bites with mango chutney sound like my kind of nibble to stave people off whilst I’m finishing off cooking. And a Moroccan platter sounds like a good sharing plate. What’s lovely about Mary’s books are that it’s a little bit of everything good to eat, not in loads of depth but enough to give you some great dishes.


Mezze: Small Plates to Share


Mezze – Small Plates to Share by Ghillie Basan

Now, this title desribes exactly the kind of thing I love to serve for a get together. I love Mediterranean flavours, and a platter of great dips and good breads, maybe some cold meats, some feta and watermelon…well, it’s summer on a platter to me. There are recipes for cold and hot dishes, as well as sweet, so something for everyone. Or just make a huge bowl of something like the labna with saffron, apricots and pistachios and stuff for dipping and that might do the trick.


Party Perfect Bites


Party-perfect bites

If it’s smaller bits you want to serve, then this is a great book, without things being over-engineered or poncey. This has sections inspired by different cuisines from the Americas to India. Fun to make, easy to eat, more time for garden games. Or cocktails


Terry & George - Feeding Friends


Terry & George – Feeding Friends

I’ve never heard of Terry and George, but given Mark Hix seems to rate them, that’ll do for me. They’re apparently famous for pop up events and are apparently Britain’s most fashionable foodies according to some. But it sounds appealing in this is classic British dishes with a twist, a sense of fun, and they sound delicious. Also says the recipes are filled with northern soul, so as a long time northerner, sounds good to me.


Thug Kitchen Party Grub


Thug Kitchen Party Grub: Eat Clean, Party Hard

A summer party does not mean huge chunks of grilled meat for some. I featured Thug Kitchen’s first book, and this one covers how to make vegan parties inspiring and delicious. Starting at breakfast, this runs all the way through amazing dinners to desserts and even the cocktails. Irreverent but delicious ideas.

So, it’s been a pretty rubbish summer so far, so let’s hope there are some sunny days ahead to enjoy food outdoors, jugs of Pimms, some cold beers, the sound of Jenga blocks collapsing and general laughter and merriment. Sounds like bliss to me. What’s your standby summer party dish?


The Friday Five – Great cookbooks for summer eating


So, we’re past the summer solstice, so it’s officially summer. No one has told the weather round here that yet though. But on the off chance that there is great weather ahead, then these books are all relatively new and suggest great summer cooking and eating to me.

Grill Smoke BBQ


Grill Smoke BBQ - great cookbook gift for a BBQ loving food lover


Well, if it’s summer, then it must be time to break out the BBQ.  This book is by Ben Tish of Ember Yard, who definitely knows a thing or two about BBQ, and I’m not just talking about a few burned burgers. I mean, when were you last served chargrilled duck breast with peas, broad beans and hot mint sauce at a BBQ? I’ve nothing against a good burger, but it would be lovely to do something different. Love that it covers desserts too, something often missing from BBQ books.


Leon Happy Salads


Leon Happy Salads - great cookbook gift for a salad loving food lover


When it warms up, then great salads are definitely a good thing to get on the menu. And we’re not just talking about a few limp lettuce leaves and a slice of tomato, but the sort of robust, flavoursome salads that Leon are renowned for. This covers the salads and the dressings (always need a good dressing) with things like chicken and rice noodle salad for the leaf rejectors, and the classic Leon superfood salad. Perfect little book for big flavours.


Byron the Cookbook


Byron the Cookbook - great cookbook gift for a BBQ loving food lover


Like I’ve already said, I’ve got nothing against a good burger, and Byron certainly know how to do a good burger. And this book shares some of their secrets for great burgers, but also for other great comfort food like meatloaf and onion rings. This book, like the first one, also does desserts, so things like cherry pie and and the Oreo and brownie sundae. It’s more in the vein of traditional BBQ fare than the first one, but definitely still a cut above the average.


Vegetable Perfection by Mat Follas


Vegetable Perfection - great cookbook gift for a veggie loving food lover


I find it easier to think about vegetables in the summer months, with things like asparagus, fresh peas and broad beans being top of my list. I could probably just eat dishes of those with some burrata and some hollandaise. Well, Mat Follas has some better ideas than that in this book. So the peas turn up in a pea panna cotta and a warm salad of samphire, chilli and shallots is also perfectly seasonal for right now. Though I love the sound of smoked parsnips with pear and blue cheese, which will make the colder days of winter feel better.


Mary Berry One Step Ahead


Mary Berry One Step Ahead - great cookbook gift for an organised food lover


Summer always gets so busy with lots of different events going on, kids heading off in different directions during the holidays, even more general busyness than usual so it makes sense to try and have some meals sorted out in advance. There’s nothing better than knowing there’s a great homecooked meal in the freezer ready to just be finished off. I don’t know what Burlington beef is, but I’d be intrigued to give it a go, and a double fish pie would definitely be one being tried in this house. I love Mary Berry and I’d feel confident in any recipe in this book. No shortcutting testing for Mary and her team!


So, a good variety of cooking from these books to encompass all kinds of summer cooking and eating. I hope we get some sunny days, to linger outside with something delicious on the BBQ, a great salad, something cold to drink and hopefully a good dessert too. What would be on your menu?


Getting the good stuff in for great dads


Father’s Day is rapidly approaching (19th, if you’ve not got it marked already in your diary), and so it’s time to start thinking about great gifts for great food and drink loving dads. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:


Pork pie with Dad's name all over it - great gift for a food lover

Here’s a personalised gift for dad, that you should definitely allow him to have to himself. A pork pie of his own, with his name on it. I bet that’ll be a first for him.


Mexican Chilli Selection from Sous Chef - great gift for heat loving food lover

I really love Sous Chef, they have such great selections for every kind of food lover, and every level of expertise in the kitchen. This Mexican chilli kit gives them chillies they might not come across in the supermarket, such as cascabel or piquin, and some tasting notes as well. Certainly could take their chilli con carne up a level or two.


Flavourly Craft Beer Gift - great gift for a beer loving food lover

If dad is fond of his beer, and is into exploring smaller, niche breweries, then maybe take a look at Flavourly, who are doing a box of 10 beers for £24 with free delivery. The selection does vary, so it’ll be a nice surprise as to what’s in there and he may discover some new favourites.


Jose Pizarro Chefs Selection from Craved - great gift for a food lover who's serious about their cooking

I’ve written before about how much I love what Craved are doing, and some of their current gift selections are carrying on that great work. I love this selection, which has been curated by chef José Pizarro, so a perfect gift for a dad who is serious about his cooking. I like that things are a little unusual, but not too niche, and you can see ways you could get several things to work together.


Cider XL Man Box - great gift for a food lover who likes it large

Now, this one is definitely a bit more sit back, open and enjoy, with the Cider XL Man Box! As well as cider, then there’s great cured meats from Cotswold Curer, pork scratchings and some chutney. You’ll need to get them some cheese and crackers to go with those. We’ll ignore all the macho posturing copy that goes with this gift (feels a bit old school, very much in Yorkie territory, yawn) and think that it’s just a great collection of good stuff.


BBQ Around the World Subscription

Here’s a gift that keeps going for a bit beyond Father’s Day, with a 3 month BBQ around the world subscription from the Spicery. Every month a new box will turn up, covering everything from the flavours of the American deep south, through to the Caribbean and then onto Vietnam. Hopefully the next 3 months will finally give us some sunny days, but at least Dad would have some sunny flavours to hand.


Game Changer by Craved

If you want to avoid the naffness of the message behind the Man Box, then I would suggest the Game Changer from Craved would be a great alternative. Greater variety of drink, in that you have a beer, a lager, and the fabulous Gosnell’s mead (I really like this one), still get great cured meats and a chutney, but you don’t have to go looking for the cheese and crackers. It’s a little more expensive than the Man Box, but in my view worth every penny.

So, a few to get you going. Check back soon when I’ll do gifts for dads on kitchen kit and cookware that might make great gifts too.


The Friday Five – Ready to BBQ


As we get through the hottest day/week of the year, then I think all eyes are on the weekend forecast to see if we can safely get the BBQs out. And so far it’s looking pretty good, fingers crossed.

So if you’re feeling in need of a bit of recipe inspiration, to progress beyond just a few sausages and burgers, then these might do the trick:


The BBQ Book from Jamie Oliver's Food Tube - great cookbook gift for a food lover who likes to BBQ


Jamie’s Food Tube: The BBQ Book – yes, the Oliver empire keeps growing, but I guess I associate Jamie with blokey cooking, and BBQ has to be the ultimate in bloke cooking. I love that it has low and slow recipes as well as the standard quick fire fare. Classic Texas Brisket would be on my list.


webers big book of barbecue - great cookbook gift for a food lover who likes to BBQ

Weber’s Big Book of Barbecue – well, given how many BBQs they sell, you would expect Weber to know a thing or two about great things to cook on them. It also covers things like using the wok and the pizza stone to great effect too. Probably only useful if you’ve got a Weber style BBQ.


Slow Fire - great gift for a food lover who loves to BBQ


Slow Fire – this is subtitled as the beginners guide to barbecue, by which it means the proper Southern style low and slow. Certainly a different approach to the usual British BBQ, and you should probably have started yesterday. The results are certainly worth the patience!


Pitt Cue Co - great cookbook gift for a food lover who loves to BBQ


Pitt Cue Co. – The Cookbook – ah yes, the tales we can tell, of how we remember them before they were big, before the queues…but always it was about amazing flavours. These guys knew about great pulled pork long before everyone else got in on the act. I’d trust them as guides in this area of cooking.


Barbecues Sauces Rubs & Marinades - great cookbook gift for a food lover who loves to BBQ


Barbecue Bible: Sauces, Rubs and Marinades – not to mention bastes, butters and glazes, so pretty much everything you need to make the most of the main ingredients. In fact, you could probably serve steak at every BBQ this summer with a different recipe from this book and still have recipes left over.

So, let’s get out there and make the most of it. We could have the heating back on by next weekend.


Getting ready for the BBQ season


We seemed to have timed our return from Australia pretty well, given that the weather round here, and across most of the UK, has been rather lovely. And at the weekend, the first drifting scent over the garden fence of neighbours with their BBQ up and running made me think it was time to start thinking about finding mine again, and thinking about cooking and new recipes for this summer.


BBQ Around the World from The Spicery - great gift for a food lover who loves to BBQ


If you have a keen BBQ cook to buy for, then I really like the look of this gift from The Spicery. It gives them a 3 month subscription to BBQ flavours from around the world, in fresh spice form. I don’t know which would be my favourite month! First one gives you the spices for buffalo wings, pulled pork and spiced iced tea amongst others.Then you move onto Turkey, with kebabs and chilli sauce, and then the final month is an Indian BBQ with tandoori chicken, mango chutney and a green chutney.

Put it this way, you’d eat well over those three months, and surely one weekend in each month must be sunny!

I think it’s lovely to give something like this, it’s a foodie gift with longevity for a few months, and gives a chance for cooking new things, not to mention getting everyone round to eat it. Got to be a good idea.

Now, just to keep fingers crossed for the sunshine!


National BBQ Week? What a laugh!


I cannot think of something I’ve fancied doing less this week than barbecuing, as I don’t think it’s stopped raining for more than about 10 minutes since 4pm on Monday.

I didn’t do a lot of barbecuing last year, although we did have #jlpbbqontour which got some use in France. We’d previously had a gas BBQ, which was ok, especially for a last minute decision to do cook outside. But I wouldn’t tend to get home from work now and think I’d stick it on, more likely to stick the griddle pan on.

However, I could be very tempted by this:


la hacienda pizza bbq oven


Now you’re talking! This is a barbecue, pizza oven and smoker in one. Yes, you’d have to think about it, and get the coals on, but I’d love it. Bit more of a talking point than your average BBQ as well, and talk about variety, imagine what you could serve up from this.

I found this on BBQBarbecues, but sadly it’s out of stock until 23 June. Which is probably about the first time we’ll get dry weather to enjoy some outdoor cooking and eating!


Inject some spice and smoke into your BBQ


The weather, for most of us in the UK, has been lovely for couple of days, which means that the smell of  BBQs has been permeating the air.

BBQ Flavours from Sous ChefIf you’ve got a BBQ king or queen to buy for, then I really like this set from Sous Chef. The Smokin’ Spice BBQ set would really take their BBQ to the next level. I mean how many BBQs have you been to where the marinade has been professionally injected into the protein? Well, if they have this kit, then they’ll be able to.

I’m intrigued by the liquid smokes, given bad experiences with smoked cheese, but pecan liquid smoke sounds like it should be good. And Fleur de Sel with BBQ spices sounds very versatile.

It’s well presented, and at £20 it sounds good value too. Let’s just hope the weather holds for the time it will take to get to you!


The things I’ve loved this year


It’s hard to believe 2013 is nearly over. Although I think I say that every year about this time! And it’s always a good time for a bit of reflection, especially when there have been so many great things to write about throughout the year.


Melt Hot Chocolates - perfect gift for food lovers who like it cosy


January was cold and snowy, and I was distinctly fancying hot chocolate to keep warm with. My favourite was definitely from Melt, and I’d have the dark chocolate variety with cinnamon sugar any day.


Personalised Cake Tin - perfect gift for the food lover with a possessive streak


February, and a gift had my name all over it. Although it could just as easily have yours on it.


Small wonders gift box from The Cheese Shed - perfect gift for a food lover who likes it cheesy


March was small and cheesy, with a great hamper from The Cheese Shed. I would imagine you might just about have time to order from them in time to see the New Year in.


Fino Dark Balsamic - great gift for a food lover who likes it rich


In April I was restocking my balsamic vinegar supplies, although there was always room for a Spiced Aromatic one.


Caramel peanut mallow - little clouds of deliciousness make a perfect gift for a food lover who likes it sweet


May was a mallow moment, with little clouds of delicious mallowness from Little Delicious. The caramel peanut heaven is a great moment of eating during my year.


Tickety Brew - great gift for a food lover who likes their beer independent


In June I was supping Tickety Brew, definitely a brew worth supping. Even for a non beer drinker like me.


BBQ on tour


In July MGG and I were on tour with a BBQ. It had its own hashtag, and had quite an adventure. Although turned out not to be so great to cook on.


Dalek Cake Mould - great gift for a food lover with as big a Doctor Who obsession as me


There was a birthday to get ready for in August, and the Doctor’s 50th was getting closer. Although our Dalek cake is replacing a traditional Christmas cake. Sort of regeneration on the cake front.


Nuance Pestle & Mortar - great gift for a food lover who likes it stylish


Although the hunt started in August, by September I had found probably my favourite pestle and mortar. Ever. Such a beautiful design, but incredibly practical too.


Oh Christmas Tea - great tea gifts for a food lover who likes a brew


Not much mention of tea, but there has been plenty of tea tasting all year round. In October I was beginning to get ready for Christmas with new gifts from The *TeaShed.


Christmas Fondant Fancies from Bettys - perfect gift for a food lover who likes it traditional


At the end of November, my favourite Yorkshire tea shop had sent me a box of goodies. Those fondant fancies would be welcome back any time.

And December is not quite over yet, so there’s a few more gift possibilities to go at before Big Ben strikes twelve! But the next few weeks are going to have to go some to beat this lot!


On tour with the BBQ


I’m already to set off for France, and MGG and I are taking a new friend. The team at John Lewis have sent me a portable BBQ, which they’d like to have my favourite photo of it and me sent back to them.

So I decided that I will have a whole series of photos on Twitter, and we’re going to give it a hashtag of its own #jlpbbqontour.

Let’s face it, the papers can have silly season, why shouldn’t I?

Here’s the first one, BBQ ready to go, sun hat at the ready, and hoping for sunshine.


The BBQ ready to go on tour, thanks to JLP

More to follow on Twitter!


The Friday Five – Picnics, BBQs and Cook Outs


Ok, it’s been a rubbish summer so far, and it’s rapidly running out. Which means we have to try and cram in all our outdoor eating into just a few weeks. Want to rev up your repertoire? Here’s a few tomes to inspire:


The Picnic Cookbook by Annie Bell - great cookbook gift for the food lover who loves the great outdoors


The Picnic Cookbook by Annie Bell – I love the images with this book, not to mention great recipes for things like dips, cold cuts and tarts. I don’t know what a Sunday roast picnic is, but it sounds like a great idea.


Lazy days and beach blankets - great cookbook gift for the food lover who loves the great outdoors


Lazy Days and Beach Blankets – the title sounds the sort of summer I’d love, although not sure if we see those days that often. But if I get the end of the summer in Norfolk again, then I’d be trying recipes like leek, feta and black olive tart and pepper’n’spice chicken. All washed down with a nice ginger Champagne cocktail. At least it would be warming even if the weather wasn’t.


Big Bob Gibsons BBQ Book - great cookbook gift for the food lover who loves the great outdoors


Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book – I’ve never heard of Big Bob, but apparently he has won the World Championship BBQ cook off 6 times. So I guess he should know a thing or two about BBQ. From racks of ribs to every kind of meat, sauces and slathers, this should see your BBQ step up a gear or two.


Pitt Cue Co The Cookbook - great cookbook gift for the food lover who loves the great outdoors


Pitt Cue Co. Cookbook – for me, Pitt Cue were at the forefront of getting great BBQ into London, from the time when they were under a bridge on the South Bank. I guess this would be trendy BBQ, and would require Fernet Brancas serving. Definitely not your average BBQ fare!


Great American Cookout - great cookbook gift for the food lover who loves the great outdoors


Great American Cookout – I have no idea what the difference is between a BBQ and a cookout, but in my mind it involves a beach on the Hamptons,  beautiful people and a clam bake. I’ve always wanted to experience that, and I don’t even like clams. So I guess this might help expand the repertoire a bit, and sure I’d find something to replace the clams with!

We don’t know how many sunny days and evenings we might get, so just be ready to go any time that the sun shows any sign of sticking around and make the most of it. Because there’s nothing to beat eating in the fresh air and sunshine, just the best!