Gifts for the flavour and ingredient explorers


Exploring new flavours and ingredients


There are those that love their cooking and are always on the hunt for new flavours, new ingredients, new things to try and experiment with. Christmas is a great time to indulge them, and seek out something a little different for them to play with. Here’s a few to get their imaginations fired up and some experimental cooking ready to go:


Spice Drops Baking Collection

The Holy Lama spice drops are brilliant additions in the kitchen, really concentrated flavours in an easy to add way to many dishes. The Baking Kit gives them the flavours of cardamom, rose, ginger and cinnamon in a way that can be introduced into all kinds of recipes. The flavours are really fresh tasting, as these are cold pressed from the best spices, and create these highly concentrated essences. Great for experimenting.


Smoked Sugar from Smoky Brae


I really love the idea of this Smoked Sugar from Smoky Brae, for the flavour it would add to all kinds of confectionary and sweet goods. A smoky salted caramel sounds like my idea of heaven on a plate. Smoky Brae also do a great gift set that has the sugar as well as their smoked gravalax cure and smokey BBQ rub, so something for all seasons.


Aduna Moringa Super Powder


There’s been lots of matcha following on from green tea, but if you want to move them on a bit then maybe try them out with Moringa. Aduna do this as a powder, which can be added to soups and smoothies. If it’s anything like matcha then it’ll be quite a challenge, probably quite an acquired taste, but that might be just the kind of challenge they like.


Organic brown teff flour from Real Foods


How about getting them different flours to play with? There’s such a huge variety available now, this one is organic brown teff flour from Real Foods, who have an incredible selection of different flours. If you want to give them some inspiration about what to do with different flours, then I really recommend Flavour Flours by Alice Medrich.


Hot banana ketchup from Sinclairs Condiments


I had never heard of banana ketchup before this year, but keep seeing it cropping up now. This one from Sinclair Condiments could just go on a burger or sausage, but it’s also good for trying out in a marinade or glaze. Something like this that gives them plenty of ways to try and use it have to be a good thing.


White Aged Balsamic Vinegar from Gourmet Spice Co

I’ve written a few times about Gourmet Spice Co over the years, and they always have something different to tempt with. I would try out the White Aged Balsamic Vinegar, because it tastes delicious but also brings some conversational bragging rights as not many people have heard of white balsamics. They’ll find it has lots of uses, and sure they’ll have lots of ideas. Gourmet Spice Co also have a good selection of different gift boxes if you can’t choose just one product. I usually have that problem!


The Flavour Thesaurus - perfect gift for a food lover looking to explore flavour combinations


If they don’t have it already, then I also recommend buying them a copy of the Flavour Thesaurus, as that has so many combinations of flavours to inspire them. There are combinations in here that you just would not think of, or get bored of trialling. Fascinating reading, even if they never actually get round to doing anything with them.

Of course, there is a fine line here, try not tip into the territory of most loathed food lover gifts! These are not the people to buy giant pepper grinders for! Less is definitely more with them, finding stuff that’s unusual but not unusable.


A grand day out at the Edible Garden Show


Chick chick chick chick chicken


We had a great day out at the weekend at the Edible Garden Show, which was a great show for those who are keen on their food from first seed through to last mouthful. Or even those who are more interested in either end of the journey.

Given my last show wasn’t a wonderful experience, then the space at Stoneleigh, both to wander and sit down and eat was a joy. Although I think for the exhibitors it was a little too on the quiet side, most that I spoke to said it hadn’t been a rip roaring success for them. Certainly MFL said he had not seen or heard anything locally about it, and I only knew about it from seeing Mark from Gourmet Spice Co post on Facebook.

But we came away with heavier bags than we arrived with, and a growing wish list…no surprise there.


Bacon jam experiments ahead thanks to Syms Pantry


We will be attempting to convert the bacon refusenik in the tribe through covert use of the bacon jam from Syms Pantry. The store cupboard now has both the regular and smoked jams in it, along with a jar of the bacon mayonnaise. Can’t wait to play with these, some good eating ahead!


My kind of mint: lime mint from Urban Herbs


I also came back with some great new herbs from Urban Herbs. The lime mint was too tempting, given a mojito is up there on my list of favourite cocktails, and I’m sure a few sprigs in a G&T or in the Pimms would work well too. I also picked up the barbecue rosemary, smells like the most amazing combo of smoke and rosemary, and was highly recommended by Mark Lloyd.


Every kind of chilli you could probably want


Talking of Mark, watched him do a great demo of a chicken terrine, which was a raised pie by any other name. Always entertaining, not to mention educational. Mark has a book out very shortly, which is on a USB stick and self published, worth a look for in a week or so’s time.


Mark Lloyd getting ready to go


If chilli is your thing, then there were lots of choices, from ready to plant and grow from Chilli Bobs, through to the most amazing selection of seeds of every kind of heat level from Sea Spring Seeds. To be fair, they had a lot more than just chillis and proved that there is definitely more to veg than the average supermarket varieties.

Two things went on our mutual wishlist: knives from Flint & Flame (which both Mark and Rachel Green raved about, both had at home apparently) and an Aquaforno. In fact, I don’t think MFL has shut up about the Aquaforno since we got back. I will write about it in more detail, but it’s probably my favourite thing I found at the show.

Well, that and Pinkster gin, but that’s a whole other story.

Overall, I enjoyed it, but as usual with these things, if the exhibitors can’t cover their costs then there is little future to a show. We thought the ticket price was a bit steep for what there was (£16 for an adult, £5 for a kid, on the door) and the more people have to pay to get in, the less there is to spend. It’s not the ’80s any more. Be interesting to see if this one is back next year.


Bringing barbecue magic to potatoes


Before the magic works

This was a very quick, but tasty, way to get something back into the cupboard from the #backofchallenge. There were a lot of pots from Gourmet Spice Company, partly because I really like them, but also think they’d been unused last year as it just really turned out to be a non BBQ type of year.

But given it’s January and there’s no sign of the BBQ here, then this was a very quick way to use the Magic BBQ Dust. I have used this on steaks and chicken in the past, but on a cold January evening then this went onto homemade potato wedges, just to give a bit of oomph on a cold winter’s evening.




I had tossed the slices in olive oil first and then sprinkled over the “dust”, which is a blend of warming, but not hot spices. After 25 mins in the hot oven, then more interesting than usual wedges popped out. And the pot of Magic BBQ Dust was allowed back in the cupboard to await warm summer days ahead! Or more potato dishes!


Get a taste for investing in good food


Here’s something that could make a really unusual gift for a food lover, or just for yourself to know you helped get something off the ground. I’ve written on quite a few occasions about good ideas and products from Gourmet Spice Co and now they are trying to bring a new product to market.

The new Taste Boxes will deliver spices and other ingredients, not to mention the know how to cook up lots of different meals. You might get pots of spices, flavoured salt and infused oil, or maybe even some of their great balsamics. As Mark the owner says, this is not curry in a box (which there are some great options already on) but a way to explore flavours, about cooking real food with real ingredients.


Gourmet Spice - invest in something really tasty


But bringing something to market like this is not cheap. Which is where you could come into this. Think about it, how often do you get to launch a product? This is a project on Kickstarter aiming to raise £5,500 in the next 19 days, and you can get in on it, for as little as £5. To be honest, investing a fiver will get you “heartfelt thanks…and a digital shout-out via a ‘funding partners’ page” which is about the same as the interest on the average savings account.

If you’re feeling a bit more flush then £25 would get you 3 tubs of their great spice rubs as well as one of the first Taste boxes. So you get goodies and the good feeling of supporting a small British business. If you’re really fired up about this then you could be at the founders party or name your own rub, or if you’ve got just under £4,000 to spend then the production line will be for ever after named after you.

Now, you don’t get to give a gift like that every day!


What to buy for the spice explorer this Christmas


I love that our choices of spices are so much more comprehensive now, even compared to ten years ago. And it’s most certainly not just about heat. So if you’ve got someone who loves their spice, then consider slipping one of these under the Christmas tree for them:


Taste the World Gift Hamper


My cupboard looks like a tribute to the Gourmet Spice Company, which is an indication of the sheer variety of products, not to mention the great taste. I really like the Taste the World gift hamper, which would give them a great selection of rubs  and flavours, from Spicy Taco to Harissa and Tandoori. There are plenty of choices of individual spices as well, which would make great stocking fillers too.


Travel Spice Kitchen


If they’re adventurous in their approach to spices, then maybe they also like to get out and about. So the Travel Spice Kitchen from Seasoned Pioneers might be just the job. Ten essential spices and seasonings all packed up and ready to travel the world. Or at least go on a long weekend to Bridlington.

Ottolenghi Jersualem HamperI’ve written before how much I love Ottolenghi, and I think this Jerusalem Hamper is fantastic. Lots of sunshine flavours and spices, like sumac and za-atar, not to mention ground cardamom. This goes beyond just spices though and gives you some great grains like freekeh, and valuable store cupboard standbys like pomegranate molasses. Santa, this one’s on my list, please.


Friday Night Curry Subscription


If they like their curries, and particularly making their own, then perhaps a subscription to the Friday Night Curry box service from The Spicery. Once a month a box turns up with all the the fresh spices and recipes you’ll need for great curry night in, and not just based on Indian curries but also things like Thai and Caribbean. You can sign your loved one up for three, six or twelve months, and hope to be invited around.

So, heat things up a little this Christmas and give them plenty of things to look forward to in the kitchen in the New Year. Particularly if it’s a really miserable January.


Still time to shop with some great independents


 Not what you were hoping for? Shop early to avoid disappointing a food lover wtih a rubbish gift


I know, it happens every year. Someone fails to tip you off that Christmas is on the 25th of December and that there is a tradition of buying gifts for loved ones. If you can’t face the shops for real, there is still time to get real presents delivered for the day, to save the absolute hell of disappointment amongst your loved ones. Here’s a few of my favourites:

Jeeves & Jericho – have failed to write about the “Jolly Good Tea Company” during the year, but their little tins of tea would make ideal stocking fillers for tea lovers and explorers. Ok for a few days yet.

South Devon Chilli Farm – great place for good gifts for the heat seekers, or just the flavour seekers. Ok through to the 19th.

Gourmet Spice Company – again, great selection, for stocking fillers or bigger gifts. The Winter Salt blend will be rubbed on our duck this Christmas Day, and couldn’t resist a few other things going in the basket too. You’ve got till midday on the 20th, get a move on!

Corn Again – it’s not just Phileas Fogg who made tasty snacks in Consett, now it’s popping with great popcorn too. Through to the 19th you could still get gourmet popcorn delivered to the door.

Womersley’s Fruit Vinegars – beautiful looking, and even better tasting. Still available to order from The Yorkshire Pantry through to 19th (unless you’re posh and can afford the courier).

Come on, what are you waiting for? Get a move on! As always, the shed can be a very cold place on Christmas morning!


Great seasoning for the festive season


If there’s one gift that makes me shudder each year (other than the vodka filled glass stiletto) then it’s the enormous salt and pepper grinders. If they work beyond the third twist, then I’m not sure either seasoning is really going to do the trick. Better in my book to buy someone great seasonings and skip the grinders, or the other way round. So, first post, the seasonings:

* I love Devonshire Gourmet Salt Company’s range, and find it hard to pick just one out. There’s the Christmas Seasoning salt, with a blend of ginger, lemon, cloves and cinnamon, which just sounds like Christmas. Personally I’d be very keen on the Coconut and Lime Sea Salt. Never mind for cooking, that would be great to put on the rim of a glass for a margarita! These are not expensive, so buy a few for one person, or lots to give as stocking fillers. Also take a look at their popcorn seasonings, as popcorn is definitely having a moment.


Salt from the Gourmet Spice Co


* I seem to meet Mark from Gourmet Spice Co on a fairly regular basis at various food shows, and always end up stocking up on great little pots of seasoning. Which I then seem to give away as gifts! There are some amazing flavours on offer like Fennel & Vanilla, Chilli, Spiced Seaweed or the new Winter Spice Salt. Again, lots to choose from, reasonable prices, so generosity need know no limits!


Fennel & Vanilla Salt from Gourmet Spice Co


* I am very fond of Spices of India, just for sheer variety. There are plenty of peppercorns of all sorts of colour on offer and you could create a whole hamper of spices to suit the cooking preferences of the recipient.

* Steenbergs is not exactly an unusual choice, but I do like their packaging, and it’s probably a safe gift for someone you don’t know particularly well other than that they have an interest in food. There’s both a salt and a pepper gift, so something for everyone.


Steenbergs Salt & Pepper gifts


Seasoning is too vital to leave it to chance, so do everyone a favour, and a flavour, and buy some decent stuff this Christmas.


Spice up winter with Gourmet Spice Co


Winter Spice Salt from Gourmet Spice Co


Having a clear out of the cupboard the other day, I came across the ends of the Pukka Dukkah that I bought from Gourmet Spice Co last year, which made me think it was time I had a look at what else they had been up to. In case I needed to order something.

And now find myself very tempted by the Winter Spice Salt. I know that Christmas is over, but it’s certainly pretty darn cold outside here as I write, and I still crave those wintry flavours and aromas. This salt contains things like orange zest, star anise, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and then a few more delicious flavours, that I am not yet tired of. This would really add something to a rub for meat, even like a fairly regular chicken that you’re thinking of roasting this weekend.

I’d probably also stock up on the Spiced Aromatic Balsamic Vinegar, which was another purchase last year. It warms up salad dressings beautifully, and have used it blended with a bit of water to deglaze a pan after cooking steak, but also with sausages. Keeps regular dishes interesting.

A company worth keeping an eye on, both online and think you’ll find them at a larger number of food events in 2012. Meanwhile, I’m off to see what I can salvage from the bottom of the dukkah pot!


Another good year at East Midlands Food Festival


Lets face it, who would have planned for a festival on 1 October to be on one of the hottest days of the years? I think this, combined with the festival moving back into the centre of Melton Mowbray, helped to make this a really busy show this year, and there seemed to be good amounts of trade going on.

I went with my usual food co-hunters, Best Foodie Friend and Mini Gourmet Girl. MGG was in heaven, as she is currently favouring fudge as her sweet of choice, and there was plenty of that. BFF and I were a bit more leaning towards the savoury side, and there was even richer pickings there. Some of our highlights as follows:

Good to finally meet the team at Gourmet Spice Co, and get to try some of the products. We tried lots of the balsamics, and could really have taken home the coffee & vanilla version and the Very Cherry version, but settled on just the Spiced Balsamic. Made a great change to regular balsamic in with olive oil for dipping good bread in. Also bought the regular Dukkah mix,which worked really well with some smoked rapeseed oil.


Trying the Battlefield Blue from the Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Company, which was creamy but very pungent, for quite a long time. Loved their cheese wedding cake display too.


Lots of posh cordials, some with lots of heritage like Mr Fitzpatricks, formed in 1890, or ones I hadn’t come across like Breckland Orchard.


Lots of game going on, and not just pheasant or pigeon. This one had oven ready squirrel, not your average Sunday roast! Bad blogger for not writing a note on this one, I think this stand belongs to Natural Game.


Still the best pizza this side of Italy for me, great to meet Jack from Hot Rocks and have the BBQ pork pizza. Great pizza anyway, but the addition of 6 hour slow roasted pork makes it just perfect. And a 90 second cook time most definitely makes this fast food.


Of course, there were some teething issues with the move back to town. Signposting coming from north of the town was lousy (non-existent), as always there were not enough places to sit down and eat, no facilities for card payments at the entrance, no cash machines on site and for me there was too much non food tat. Honestly, at a good food festival, in my book, there is no room for Cotton Traders. But the weather made all things feel better, so here’s hoping the other things can be improved on for next year.