Seven starter gifts for the just starting out food lover


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.


The Friday Five – cooking from the beginning


I may have mentioned that MGG and I are off to Australia soon, which means that my aunt and uncle are moving in again to house sit, and it seems like my uncle has had a bit of road to Damascus moment and decided he’d really like to learn to cook. Good on him, I say, it’s a life skill that I think everyone should have and it’s never too late to learn.

He’d like some inspiration (and I think my aunt would too to be honest), so these are some that I think could tick the boxes:

Delias complete how to cook - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover who wants to learn for themselves

Delia’s Complete How To Cook – even now, I refer to my Delias on a regular basis. I thought about including the original Complete Cookery Course, but I think this is better for a starting point. Couldn’t really be in safer hands.


Jamie's Ministry of Food - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover who wants to learn for themselves


Jamie’s Ministry of Food – ok, this one promises anyone can learn to cook in 24 hours. We’re gone for nearly 3 weeks. He should be signed up for Masterchef by the time we get back!


The Basic Basics How to Cook from A to Z - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover who wants to learn for themselves


The Basic Basics: How to Cook from A to Z – well, this should do what it says on the tin. Apparently covers 150 everyday foods, so should be plenty to go at. The fact this will take him from broth to pie should keep him busy, and happy!


Men's Cooking Manual - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover who wants to learn for themselves


Men’s Cooking Manual – I normally loathe this kind of clichéd title, but have a feeling that my uncle might actually quite like this one. If it encourages cooking, then I’m happy that it gets him going!


River Cottage Family


The River Cottage Family Cookbook – I appreciate that this one was written with kids in mind, but it is brilliant for learning the basics, and how recipes build from a basic to something even better. It’s also my go to for Yorkshire pudding recipe, which shames me each time I look it up, but the recipe never fails. Which will make him happy.

So wherever you begin with cooking, to me the important thing is to begin, and to realise it really isn’t rocket science, and anyone can do it. We’ll report back on how he gets on!


Week 6 Cookbook Challenge – the festive ones


There’s been a bit of a gap in my cookbook challenge, mainly as the cooking for the season took over. But I managed to work in a couple of Christmas specific cookbooks, and finding new recipes from them.


delia smiths christmas


First up is the most classic of my Christmas books, with Delia Smith’s Christmas. Mine’s not quite a first edition, but it is the original design from 1990. I’ve cooked Christmas cake from this before, as I think I’ve always been on the dessert course and cakes until recently. As I was cooking for six of us this year, and semi traditional with turkey and ham on the table, then needed some traditional accompaniments.


Bread sauce


My personal fave with the turkey is the bread sauce, and so it was Delia’s recipe for us, but with a bit of a tweak in that I used gluten free bread in mine. It seemed to make little difference to the sauce, and took up all the traditional flavours of the clove studded onion steeped milk, with the bayleaf and nutmeg. I made this a fortnight in advance and froze it, and then finished it on the day with double cream and more butter.


cranberry orange 1


And I guess I could have bought a jar of cranberry sauce, but instead made some cranberry and orange relish from the same book. I loved the smell from this as it was cooking, with the orange zest and juice, the cinnamon, cloves and ginger. It was less cloying and sweet than the jarred stuff and, whilst not a “proper” preserve, it seems to be keeping ok in a jar in the fridge, and works really well with cold meats of all descriptions.


christmas cookies


Switching back to sweet stuff, I made cookies from Christmas Cookies from the Whimsical Bakehouse for a get together at work. I think the spiral tricolour cookies got the most “wow” comments, and have to admit these were a lot of impact for just a bit of effort. They were pretty tasty too, otherwise would have been pointless.


pinwheel 1


I also used their gingerbread cookie recipe to make cookies for all my team, along with the royal icing recipe. They can’t be held responsible for the somewhat wobbly icing though, that’s all my own work! This recipe also apparently works well for building gingerbread houses, which I might try this year.




I appreciate the Christmas season is over, but now might be a good time to look for books like this as I imagine they might be discounted now. Christmas Cookies looks like a bargain on Amazon if you want a secondhand one as it’s only 24p from one supplier. The later edition of Delia’s Christmas book is cheaper than mine from some bookstores, not sure on the content difference but imagine bread sauce will definitely still feature!


The Friday Five – the books of my mum


Mother’s Day is just around the corner (well, it is here in the UK at least), and time to reflect on the mums in our lives. I didn’t want to think about books to give mums, but thinking about the books my mum has given me, or that I really associate with her.

Delias Summer Collection

Delia Smith’s Summer Collection – gosh, summer of 1993. My mum queued at George’s in Bristol (now a Jamie’s Italian) to get two copies of this, and we both have a signed edition. Both our copies are well thumbed and food stained, and dishes turn up in both homes. The halloumi with the garlicky, lime dressing is a standby dish, and I still love it today.


Cooking for your Freezer


Cooking for your Freezer – there were any number of St. Michael cookbooks I could have chosen, as I think Mum had quite a few of these. We certainly had this one, and one for special occasions, and I think a few more besides. Whenever I see these, usually in charity shops now, then they bring on a real sense of nostalgia for me. In fact, I now have one, and love leafing through it, just for the trip down memory lane. I might even cook from it eventually.


Cake Decorating & Sugarcraft


Cake Decorating and Sugarcraft – oh, my brother and I spent hours looking at this and some of the other cake decorating books. My mum was incredibly inventive in her birthday cake decorating, and hopefully I’ve carried that tradition on for MGG. This book is quite technical and not something that I’ve ever got into, but does bring back happy memories.


Be Ro Home Recipes


Be-Ro Home Recipes – I cannot think how many times we baked from this, how many pages were stained with cake batter, or coming loose from the staples. I don’t know what year our version was, but I keep meaning to buy one. If only to make some Australian Crunch, not had that in years!


Dairy Book of Home Management


Dairy Book of Home Management – this is exactly the edition we had, and whilst not purely a cookery book, I remember spending lots of hours looking through it. The wallpaper designs in the home decor sections are particularly memorable. But it’s got a great basic cooking section, and something perfect to start with.

I’d love to know about the cookbooks that you remember from your childhood. Not quite your inheritance tracks, but your inheritance cookbooks, the impact your mum has had on what you do, and don’t, cook today.


The Friday Five – Back to cookery school


It’s that time of year, when the kids are back to school, or off to uni, or returning to uni. For many that might mean cooking for themselves for the first time, and really it’s never too early to get them started. Or, indeed, too late for those who have got well beyond uni and still not sure where to begin. These might be good places to start:


Jamie's Ministry of Food


Jamie’s Ministry of Food – ok, love him or hate him, Jamie has got a chunk of younger people interested in cooking, and this book is one of those that helps you build a repertoire of dishes from one core recipe. I would imagine that it’s a good starting point for older beginners. Particularly of the male variety.


Delia's Complete Cookery Course


Delia’s Complete Cookery Course – I’m old school, and I am of a Delia meets Nigella generation. Whilst this book came out quite some time after I learnt to cook, I could recognise many of the recipes. This really does take your skills from A to Z and would give you comprehensive cooking skills. And you’d know how to boil an egg.


Mary Berry's Cookery Course


Mary Berry’s Cookery Course – this would seem, even to me, like being taught to cook by your favourite grandma or great aunt. Who doesn’t love Mary Berry? A bit like working through Delia, this will give you everything you need, but with a few more puddings, cakes, biscuits and bread. Which feels like a perfect menu for life.


The Basic Basics


The Basic Basics How to Cook from A to Z – talk about the building blocks of cooking, this really does take you back to how to put all kinds of ingredients together to build up a collection of recipes. It’s not flash, it’s not well known, but it’s not that expensive either. Good starting point if you don’t want loads of photos.


How to Cook Everything Vegetarian


How to Cook Everything Vegetarian – for some it’s most definitely not going to be about meat, and so this might be a great starting point for them too. Some are ready in under 30 minutes, so they can’t be put off by lengthy prep and cooking time.

I still think learning to cook is one of the most useful skills we can send our kids out into the world with, that and a love of, and curiosity about, food. And if you’re packing them off already ahead of the curve and well into cooking, then these are five I thought might just stand them in really good stead for the next level.


The Friday Five – cooking solo in the kitchen


This is now a single adult household, and I have to admit that my shopping and cooking is going to take a little while to adjust! One of the first cookbooks I ever owned was Delia Smith’s One is Fun, a great cookbook, though a bit of an odd gift from a relatively new boyfriend at the time. I cooked from it a lot, though not often for him. So, in case of needing new inspiration, here are five for the solo households out there (or those who prefer to multiply numbers rather than divide!).


The Pleasures of Cooking for One


The Pleasures for Cooking for One by Judith Jones – ok, I chose this one purely on the basis of the cover. I’d love to think that I regularly turned out dinners like this for myself, but I’m writing this on a night when I’ve had soup for dinner. Okay, soup I had made myself at the weekend, but it’s hardly souffle and a glass of wine. That said, there’s a whole chapter on soups in this book, so possibly not so odd!


Everyday Cooking for One


Everyday Cooking for One by Wendy Hobson – this one has a guide to the single storecupboard. I think it’s going to take me years to get down to this level. But there’s also some great sounding dishes like coconut chicken and sticky rice, or sweetcorn pancakes. I’m just not sure about needing a recipe for a cream tea for one.


Quick & Easy Cooking for one

Quick & Easy Cooking for One by Catherine Atkinson – having covered off the larder, this one also covers my other favourite piece of kit, the freezer. It also talks about eating well and eating to suit your lifestyle. All important things to consider, if you’re not going to live on toast each night I guess! Cajun spiced steak and mushroom fajitas sound much more appealing though!


Going Solo in the Kitchen


Going Solo in the Kitchen by Jane Doerfer – so, this one covers one of my other pet topics: recycling and leftovers. Food waste drives me nuts, and I need to make sure that my shopping needs to adjust to ensure waste is minimised. But I also want to find great new ways of using up the leftovers.


How to Boil An Egg


How to Boil An Egg by Jan Arkless – one of the dinners I won’t ever cook for myself is a boiled egg. Poached or scrambled maybe, but no boiled eggs. These are simple recipes, so perfect perhaps for the first time solo cook. Though artichokes and offal possibly not on the list for the first time cook!

So, whilst it’s all change in the kitchen here, then it doesn’t change a desire to turn out interesting, home cooked food. Any tips or hints on cooking in small quantities? Pieces of essential kit? Love to hear from you.


The Friday Five – my birthdays in cookbooks


Bring on the cake!


Lets face it, I’m pretty good at birthdays now. I’ve had more than a few, and I guess friends and family have got the hang by now of my interests and likes! In fact, writing the blog has definitely helped them out, with some of my posts being less than subtle hints! So, as it’s nearly that time of year again, thought I would review those books I’ve received at different times, from different people, and across many different types of food.


Delia's Summer Collection


Delia’s Summer Collection – my mum and dad bought me this one, and it’s even signed by Delia. Think Mum went to what was then Georges on Park Street in Bristol to meet her. I still cook from this each summer, the pan fried halloumi cheese being a standby, and the coconut ice cream still one of my faves. I don’t look at the publication date, it makes me feel old. But this book is timeless. And the photography is still beautiful and evocative of the best summers even now.


Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery – this one came from BFF and her fella, I can’t imagine why! We’ve had some fabulous afternoon teas together, and I’ve baked one or two cakes for them over the years. These are good cupcakes, not over fancy ones in my book, ones where taste of cake is as important as the icing. This is a keeper. Hello Cupcake up for grabs. Never baking from this.


The Book of Tapas by Simone and Ines Ortega – just to show what happens when you have more than one wishlist on Amazon. I use one for storing books for future Friday Fives, and one for stuff I’d really like. And sometimes, some members of the family have got the two mixed up. Sometimes it would work ok. And sometimes, there are times when it doesn’t. This one didn’t see another birthday in the house.


How to be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Caking – of course, there’s a cake theme, baking, comfort food. My friends know me well. This book is very well-thumbed, and is covered in different cake batters. I don’t think there’s a better recommendation for a cookbook than finding the messiest one on anyone’s shelf!


Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky – this was a follow up to me reading Cod the year before. Great reading, some brilliant recipes, and more stuff than you ever thought you wanted to know about salt. And then some.


So, who knows what the birthday fairy might turn up with this year if I’ve been good? Will keep you posted!



The Friday Five – Cookbooks for the New Age of Austerity


Time to tighten our belts! The new age of austerity beckons


So, George Osborne is with us, and we have to remember he promised us an age of austerity as he starts with the cuts. Given that everyone has been talking about whether or not that might include putting VAT on food and books, I’m in for a double whammy. So before that happens, here’s 5 books that could help herald the way I’ll be needing to cook within the near future! And in true austerity measures style, I’ll be ordering them secondhand!

1. Good Eating: Suggestions for Wartime Dishes – a great reprint of a book from when austerity was your life, not a lifestyle choice. Whilst these might be old recipes, they seem perfect for the times we’re living in. I bought a copy of this at a National Trust shop, and I would say it was a bit of a national treasure. It’ll cost you a little more than the original 2’/, but you can get a used copy from£1.45.

2. Feeding the Nation by Marguerite Patten – talking about national treasures, if anyone knows how to cook well in times of austerity then it has to be Marguerite Patten. Fabulous for producing comforting, nostalgic food that will take you back in time, and not break the bank. And the recipes produce surprisingly tasty results. Except Stuffed Marrow. I don’t care how austere it gets, I am not eating stuffed marrow!

3. Ministry of Food: Thrifty Wartime Ways to Feed Your Family Today by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall – I’ve written about this book before, and think it’s great that the Imperial War Museum has really caught the food mood of the nation. I guess this is the modern day version of Marguerite’s book, and the illustrations are lovely in this, so it’s a beautiful looking book as well as interesting with good recipes. Whether George would approve of pretty things in austere time, but what the heck! If you look at the posters of the time they have a beauty of their own, so go for it!

4. Frugal Food by Delia Smith – oh yes, another national treasure to help us through austere times. Now, this classic has been updated recently, but the original version is available from only 1p, so it would feel much more appropriate to buy that version! You know what you’re getting with a Delia recipe, so I would think they would all turn out tasty recipes that are not overly complicated, and hopefully not too expensive!

5. The Workhouse Cookbook by Peter Higginbotham – well, I don’t think George has suggested bringing back the workhouse, but who knows? If you want to get a view on what might be in store from a food perspective, then this is the book for you. Plenty of photos to show you it was no holiday camp, but apparently the food was more varied than you might think. If you want a slightly depressing, but interesting, day out, then I can recommend a day at The Workhouse at Southwell. It’ll make you want to boost your savings!

I don’t think we need our ration books yet, but a bit of belt tightening may be in order. Which probably means more people will discover the benefits of local and seasonal cooking! Ration book photo by WolfieWolf over on Flickr.


Amazon lead us into temptation…

Economy Gastronomy
Economy Gastronomy

I think you might have gathered by now that I rather like my cook books, and the groaning bookshelves would bear testament to that. So I guess I really don’t need an offer from Amazon of 50% off a whole heap of new titles!

What to choose?

I mean, Nigel Slater was the first cookery book I bought for myself, so I guess 50% off Tender would be enticing. Not to mention all those wonderful veg recipes. But then there’s Economy Gastronomy, which suits the current economic mood. And of course a big saving fits in with that mood!

Marcus Wareing wins the most unusual title award, with Nutmeg and Custard. Sounds divine and intriguing, especially the chapter entitled Puds, Popcorn and the Ice-Cream Parlour. My kind of chapter! I’m less sure, but none the less intrigued by The Exotic Meat Cookbook. Definitely not going to tick the local food box, but will be interesting I’m sure.

There are all sorts of TV titles, from Jamie’s America to The Hairy Bikers’ Food Tour of Britain. Could sprinkle a seasonal bit of Delia with her Happy Christmas. Or spice things up with Levi Roots Caribbean Food Made Easy.

I think the time has come to measure up the space on the bookshelves, and then perhaps get Santa to put a few aside for me!


The Friday Five – let’s start at the very beginning…


If, as a foodie, you’re at all like me, you will have shelves groaning with cookery books, food writing and magazines about food. The food and drink section of any bookshop will be your first stop, where you will lovingly eye up titles. Sound familiar?

So I’ve decided to feature 5 books each Friday, about different aspects of food and drink, some serious, some not, some for true foodies, some for dabblers, but always something that you can add to your wishlist. And let me know what yours are on each subject, love to hear! May just find a new title to add to those bookshelves!

For the first outing of the Friday Five, I’m starting at the beginning, with the 5 books that really fired my love of food.


The Be-Ro Home Recipes Book


1. The Be-Ro Home Recipes Cookbook – I still have my mum’s copy of this that is probably at least 35 years old, but love each and every recipe. When I’m feeling nostalgic, or just need comfort baking I turn to this. If you missed out on this, there’s a 40th anniversary edition available.

2. Delia Smith’s One is Fun – I had this when I first left home, and cooked from it lots. When I left one particular flatshare, I discovered that although I could cook most of the braised steak au poivre blindfold, I couldn’t finish the dish. This because my flatmate always did the last bit whilst I made the mash. The chocolate mousse is still my go to recipe.

3. Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater – any book with recipes for bacon sandwiches and smartie sandwiches is absolutely fine by me. Spoke to the need for good food, in a hurry, possibly the worse for wear. Which happened quite a lot.

4. The New Moosewood Cookbook – my godmother sent me this. I think she knew I was cooking from number 3 a lot. There aren’t a lot of smarties in this one. Or bacon. But I did cook quite a lot from it in attempts to be healthy.

5. A La Carte Magazine – not strictly speaking a book, but in the 80s this was food porn at the highest level! My mum used to buy it and I used to spend hours looking at the recipes and photography, which was luscious. Can’t even find any on eBay, but Gastronomy Domine has a recipe on her blog from there, so have to make do with that!

Love to hear what were the books that stoked your interest in food! And if anyone has any copies of A La Carte, be interested in hearing from you! With the resurgence of dinner parties, it must be time to bring back the Black and White dinner parties!