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 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


Bringing home the bacon




I’d been debating all day what to write about tonight. I had two possible subjects I’d been batting around all day, but Helen Browning made my mind up. She was on the radio talking about Pigstock, which is being held at her farm and pub the weekend after next, and sounds great fun. If you don’t know Helen (how could you not?) she has been producing the most amazing organic bacon for nearly 20 years, and you should be eating it!

There’s a music festival at the pub, but she was talking about spending the weekend with the pigs, even camping under a pig arc if you wanted to! The website seems short of info, so best to give them a ring! Sounded great fun, be brilliant with kids. Possibly less so with the vegetarians. And try the bacon before you go, it’s great. I always look out for her van at country fairs, much better than a lot on offer.

The reason I was thinking bacon was down to an article that covered Mo’s Bacon Bar by Vosges (one of the few chocolate brands I would bring back from the US). Sounds unlikely but I’m prepared to give smoked bacon and milk chocolate a go. Not to mention More Cupcakes with their BLT, bacon maple and peach bacon BBQ cupcakes. And for the drinkers, then it’s all about Bakon Vodka.

Yes, you read right! A premium potato vodka with a savoury bacon flavour, they say it’s the only one you will ever want to make a Bloody Mary with. Sadly, it only appears to be available in the North West states of the US, but could make a trip to Seattle more interesting! If you’re not heading that way any time soon, then I found a recipe for making your own here.

For more close to home options for the bacon lover in your life, try the following:

1) Check out the many tshirt designs on Zazzle and Cafe Press. I like the Haiku about Bacon tshirt and the Delicious Pig Bib for mini foodies from Bizarre T Shirts.

2) For a box of gold medal winning deliciousness, then try the selection pack from Ramsay of Carluke. Good enough to be one of Rick Stein’s food heroes, good enough to go between two slices of bread in this household!

3) Get it crisp and get it fast, with a microwave bacon crisper from Lakeland. Perfect for late night, post pub munchies in a hurry.

4) For an on the go bacon hit, try Uncle Oinkers Bacon Mints. Each one tastes like a slice of crispy bacon with a hint of mint for extra punch. (UPDATE, sadly no longer available)

5) Do it yourself, or at least learn how to. River Cottage do a day’s course of Meat Curing and Smoking, where you will learn, amongst other things, how to make your own bacon. You get food tasting and a two course lunch, not to mention being in the beautiful Dorset countryside. There are dates throughout the rest of the year, check the site for details.

I have such a weakness for bacon, I’ve even had to cook a few slices during the course of writing this! Lunch tomorrow will be spinach, mozzarella and bacon salad with a mustard and maple syrup dressing. Can’t wait!

Go on, bring home some bacon now!

Photo courtesy of Shawnzam.


For the BBQ Kings & Queens


Lets face it, with the temperature soaring, there’s not much inside cookery going on round here! There’s the nightly smell of food on a hot grill, which can have varied results.

If your foodie continues their endeavours outdoors too, then here’s some great suggestions to make this their best season of outdoor cooking yet!

Smokin' Rigs and Great Recipes
Smokin' Rigs and Great Recipes

1. Show them that barbecue can be an extreme sport, not to mention a technique for mass catering, with a copy of Extreme Barbecue: Smokin’ Rigs and Real Good Recipes. If they start building contraptions in the garden, then it’s probably something out of here!

2. Buy them a barbecue that will be real talking point! Have a look at the Nordic barbecue, which is a tower barbecue, which is different. It’s said to cook things more healthily than normal, as food cooks next to the heat source and you get no flames from dripping fat. And apparently all that makes the food taste better, which will be key for the foodie! They’re also pretty new, so will be a real wow when they have friends round. If it’s a competitive foodie environment, they score big brownie points!

3. If there’s likely to be steak on the grill, then how about a branding iron? Firebox have one that you can personalise, so you can put everyone’s name on their steak, or any message you like! It’s a bit of fun, but serves a practical purpose!

4. Buy them something fabulous to slap on the grill. A good time to check out your local butcher, farm shop or farmer’s market. We used to live in Hampshire, and would make a summer weekend trip to O’Hagan’s Sausages to stock up with something unusual. Drunken Duck sausage anyone? We’re also enjoying some from Jimmy’s Farm that we bought at a country fair recently. We had the lamb sausages, and also the gluten free classic sausage, so perfect if your foodie suffers with an intolerance.

5. They might need something a bit more special than HP Sauce and Heinz Ketchup to go with those burgers. I’m quite impressed with the ones Jamie Oliver is offering, the tomato one in particular. It’s a bit special, and very tasty!

They should also try checking out the BBQ Blog, this is about serious bbq’ing complete with competitions! We have such a long way to go here in the UK! There’s a great entry on a barbecue road trip, so if you want to treat them to a very different trip across the US, this might be for them!