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!


The Friday Five – On pies, baking and Britishness


It could be because we’ve gone beyond the Last Night of the Proms, which is always a signal of autumn for me, or that publishers are preparing for Christmas, but there is a raft of new books out that are calling out for attention. And there is a bit of a theme, all around real comfort food. Here’s five that I’m thinking of making room for:


Jamie's Great Britain - the one Jamie Oliver cookbook that's on my shelves, I think this is a great gift for a food lover


Jamie’s Great Britain – well, he’s been around a lot of the globe, so I think it was inevitable that Jamie Oliver ended up back in the UK at some point. The cynic in me would say this is capturing a trend for Britishness that we’ll see grow as we head into the Olympics, but it looks like this will encompass all the great flavours that Britain is famous for. I’m sure this will be a huge success, and keep the focus on the ever improving British food scene.

The Hairy Bikers’ Perfect Pies – love the Hairy Bikers, love pies, which has to make this a perfect book for me. As you’d might expect this covers sweet and savoury, small and large, traditional and new. Something for everyone.

Pieminister: A Pie for All Seasons – told you I love pies, and I love Pieminister, been buying their pies pretty much from when they started. All the favourites are there, and try something different like a St Valentine’s pie. I guess you don’t need both of the pie books, but would be hard pressed to choose between them!

Tea with Bea: Recipes from Bea’s of Bloomsbury – more stuff I love. Proper tea time, plenty of baking, cake. This book certainly covers all of those, and then some. I wouldn’t know where to start but quite sure I would find plenty of willing volunteers to try whatever I was testing out. Teatime could become very popular!

Ginger Pig Meat Book – I love the description of this as a meat manual for the inquisitive domestic cook, which I guess means you can get beyond your usual meat cooking routine from this. Covering different meats, and by month, as well as all the accompaniments, this gives you endless variations and possibilities. I don’t know what aromatic melting pork is, other than delicious, but it makes me want to really make it!

So five choices that really reflect great food, the sort of stuff I love to cook, that are perfect as we head into winter. I would say these are not the sort of books to read in bed though, you’ll be starving by page 6!


Wood fired pizza ovens on the up?


I wrote over the weekend about how MGG and I had enjoyed lunch at the East Midlands Food Festival from Jack’s Artisan Pizza. I wrote about how amazed I was at the wood fired oven in the back of a horse trailer, that I’d never seen one before.

Well, blow me, these things are like buses! No sooner do I see one than we get a flyer through the door for a mobile one visiting a number of local villages on a rota. Which is great, as there are no pizza delivery services around here, and certainly not of this quality.

Personally, I blame Jamie Oliver. We’ve watched him cooking in his for a while now, and he now offers them for sale. I wouldn’t say this was going to be a small gift for the foodie in your life, as the cheapest is over £2,500. And you have to build the housing and assemble the oven yourself for that. For a more reasonable option, try Garden Gift Shop, who have a large variety of options, none of which are as expensive as Jamie’s.

If you prefer the complete DIY approach, then I found a book on Amazon that should be just the thing: Building a Wood-fired Oven for Bread and Pizza. I guess it rather does what it says on the tin! Have a look at tales of building a tandoor in the garden over on Butcher, Baker and Random Stuff Maker. Or here’s a quick video to give you some extra inspiration!


If electricity and gas go up a lot in price, then we may all be looking to cook over wood over the next few years!

Great shot by Graeme Maclean on Flickr.


Best apps for British foodies?


It was the start of a long, expensive love affair with my iPhone


I never used to care about my mobile phone. First it just made calls, then texts, and then I really went upmarket and had one with a camera.

And then that one died.

And on a bit of a whim, plus curiosity, I bought an iPhone. And, other than the appallingly short battery life, I love it!

Officially, love it.

Especially for the world of apps that it brings to your fingertips. Before I owned one, someone said to me at a party that you could tell a lot about a person by their apps, and not having one probably told him a lot too. But a look now would confirm what most people know: I love food, drink, eating out, eating in, more food.

There are  a lot of food and drink orientated apps out there, with a lot, of course, directed at the US. So, purely in the interest of research, I’ve been playing with some that seem more intended for those of us here in the UK. Here’s my thoughts:


Jamie Oliver 20 minute meals


Jamie’s 20 Minute Meals– had to start here I guess, given how many zillions of downloads there have been of this. The cheeky chap meets high tech and delivers some pretty good after work dinner recipes in his own style. I like the instructional videos for things like the best way to slice and chop an onion, and also how to organise your kitchen. So yes, this is not aimed at the most experience cooks around, but there will be some people who find this great. Recipe groups include soup, risottos, quick curries, salads and even pudding, something for all kinds of tastes. The very inexperienced cook may find it helpful to have a photo of turning the knob on your oven to the lowest setting, but I think most of us can manage without. I’ve used this at work for quick inspiration, used the shopping list feature and then just knocked something out at home. Pretty good, as long as you don’t have your fingers in a mess for when you need to swipe the screen and you can keep it somewhere where it’s not going to fall in pans of stuff whilst you cook. Currently £2.99.


Nigella's Quick Colletion on the app store


Nigella Quick Collection– where Jamie leads…well, the only amazing thing is that it’s only Nigella from the roster of UK chefs and cooks that seems to have followed. Recipes are sorted, possibly in a Sophie Dahl tribute, by food mood, including comfort, romantic and nibbly. Recipes do have a nifty voice control for going forwards or backwards through the steps, avoiding the possibly messy swiping involved with Jamie’s. The videos look like clips from the TV programmes so not ideal to cook along to, but you can email the recipe to yourself and print it out. The invite function is a cute little quirky extra, and I really like that you can set the units and retailers to UK or US. Is it worth £4.99? I’m not sure, you could buy How to Eat for less than that and have a whole host of meals at your fingertips.


Ocado on the app store


Ocado – this is my favourite app, if only because I normally end up in bed reading Olive or something similar and adding stuff straight away to the next delivery. I love that it gives me options to add everything I’ve had before, or some of it, recommends stuff I might like based on other stuff I’ve bought, and is good on highlighting offers. Bit short on inspiration, but high on convenience.


Zagat on the app store

Zagat – this is obviously a paid for app based on the best selling guide, and does give you the benefit of being a lot lighter to carry around than all the guides. The UK coverage is focused pretty much on London, with over 2,200 entries, compared to 1 in Cardiff. I also find it a bit difficult to navigate, as it’s not intuitive how to go back a step, and seems to need to go back to the start each time. Reviews are concise but interesting, features opening times, credit card policies, and other categories, that include cheese tray served, dessert specialist, game served and winning wine list. I love the out-takes from places that you don’t want to try that pop up too. At £5.99 it’s not the cheapest app, but there’s a lot to it, if you like Zagat’s style.
9 to 5 Food – this is billed as quick, money-saving recipes for busy people, so I guess a little similar to Jamie without the celeb name or production values. And at the same price, I would question whether it really is worth it, and who would buy it other than those of us interested in researching foodie apps. I would say it was pretty basic, very text based and the writing is not that compelling. I wouldn’t waste your money.

iCook Curry


iCook– there is a huge range of cookery styles available in the iCook series, and I’ve been trying iCook Curry. For 59p it’s ok, you could probably Google all the recipes quite easily, but it’s convenient and gives you 18 recipes. Some on here were quite normal (Chicken Tikka Masala) but then included things like Persian Biriyani and Murgh Chana Balti. Instructions are clearly written, but not extensive, but I imagine most competent cooks would be fine with them. The series includes cupcakes and gourmet burgers, and also some more generalist volumes too. Would probably give it a B minus, and could try harder.


Starbucks app


Starbucks– I have no idea what the use of this is, unless I needed to find a decent loo close by. MGG has chosen to create a personalised Venti Strawberries & Cream Frappucino with 20 packets of sugar. At least it’s virtual. It’s up there with the McD’s finder in terms of usefulness to those who enjoy great food.


Good Food Magazine app


GoodFood – the magazine has two apps, festive recipes and healthy eating. I’ve got the latter, although would probably like the recipes in the former better. There’s a pick of the day, recipes for each meal and videos for things like preparing a whole fish or how to grill peppers. It’s okay but not particularly inspiring. At £1.79 I’d save up and buy a copy of the magazine.


Good Food Guide app


Good Food Guide– You don’t need this and Zagat I would say, and this is obviously much more comprehensive in its coverage of the UK. I like the near to me function, giving you everything around where you are, or you can combine this with keywords. The listings include those places that won Reader awards as well as Editors’ awards, those with notable wine lists, and those that have been in the list the longest. I would say this was £4.99 well spent if you want to eat out a lot.

I am sure I’ve not exhausted the list of apps available, as it increases every day, so I’d love to know what you’ve found, what you think I should have a try of. And there are gaps. I can’t find anything relating to farmer’s markets (although you can get a National Farmer app), or much from the big wine makers or retailers. You would have thought that wine pairing would be great as an app. I am sure it will happen!

Meantime, I’m off to the Little Chef to test out their Afghan menu!


What’s new for Spring?


Just having a quick virtual browse round to see what’s new for Spring for the foodies, and here’s just a few of the things that have caught my eye:


Gluten Free Fishcakes. Only free from gluten, not great taste


* From The Fish Society, a tasty treat for those needing a gluten free diet. Norcakes are fishcakes from Norway that have seen neither potato (so you get more fish) or a breadcrumb (so you get no gluten). Great sounding flavours, either Pollock & Lemongrass or Salmon & Dill. Perfect standby comfort food for me.

* I love, it’s such a great source of such a huge variety of different drinks, the stuff you don’t necessarily see in the supermarket. They’ve just listed SW4 Dry Gin, which I have yet to see on sale round here, or make it into my glass, but it sounds great. And I’m intrigued by the Bitter Truth Pimento Dram, which is pimento and rum. Could make for an interesting evening!

Light my Fire, with chocolate, from Jamie Oliver

* Always a sucker for chocolate, I like the cheeky bars that Jamie Oliver is doing, which include Light My Fire (dark chocolate with mandarin and ginger) and Get Fresh (dark chocolate with a hint of mint). The flavours are nothing new, but the chocolate is 72% cocoa solids, as well as organic and fairtrade, so on top of that to have great looking packaging is a real positive. Cheer someone’s day up, any day, with one of these.

* I know this won’t tick the local box, but it is seasonal. Natoora have Wild Pink Radicchio in from Verona, which they say is very nice grilled, and I would be tempted to try it in risotto, having made one before with “normal” radicchio. I am expecting this to be slightly less bitter than the red version.

* The Eden Project is one of my favourite places, but it’s a bit of a drive from here in the East Midlands. Pleased to see their online shop suddenly looking really snazzy and interesting with some great things on it. For the foodies, then there is the Olive Lovers Gift, which has an olive sapling, and a jar of their own marinated olives. This is going to be one of those taste good, do good gifts, going to support the ongoing work at the Project. They’ve got some great chicken houses too, if keeping your own is on your to do list this year.

So just a few new things that have caught my eye, that I’ll be storing away as ideas for great gift ideas for someone, at some stage, this Spring. What’s caught your eye? I’d love to know.


So, what are the most used gadgets in your kitchen?

What's useful in your kitchen
Get your pots & pans ready


I’ve been in the kitchen quite a lot this weekend, doing everything from baking to cake decorating with Mini Gourmet Girl and making a massaman chicken curry from scratch. Which saw me digging around the kitchen and marvelling at how many things just don’t seem to get used that often, that it’s the same bits of kit I get out, regardless of what’s on the menu.

If I had just ten things, then these would be the ones I think I would be taking everywhere with me:

1. Plastic mixing bowls – love the look of Mason Cash but just too darn heavy!

2. Good knives – I know this is cheating, but I could live with three: bread, small sharp and larger sharp knife.

3. Chopping boards – plural again, but one wooden and one plastic

4. Food processor – not got anything fancy, it’s rather old and beaten up but still does a multitude of jobs

5. Le Creuset casserole – I’ve had this about 20 years and it’s still going strong

6. Spatula – for getting the last bit out of those bowls when baking

7. Silicone bakeware – at a minimum, then the round ones for Victoria sponge, a loaf shaped one and one for cupcakes

8. Scales – although could do to upgrade as measuring on current ones a bit hit and miss

9. Pestle & mortar – still the best thing for bashing up spices

10. Breadmaker – surprisingly, a gadget that gets used pretty much every other day

I’m taking things like wooden spoons as a given in this! But it does make me wonder about all the other stuff! What’s indispensable in your kitchen? And what do you wonder why on earth you bought it? Yes, Flavour Shaker and mango cutter, I’m looking at you!


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!


Valentine’s Day for Meaty Lovers



Love meat!


Those of you who’ve read my blog on more than one occasion will know that I try to not feature the obvious, am not much of a lover of the themed gift, and tend to write about stuff that first and foremost tastes great, rather than looks right for the occasion. I’m not going to divert from that now so, if you’re looking for hearts and flowers, you’re in the wrong place.

Instead I’m going to write a series of these for foodies with different kinds of tastes. Perhaps I should have called this first entry My Bloody Valentine, as I thought I would start with great gifts for those that love their meat.

Of course it’s not a traditional gift (unless it’s in the stalkerish tradition of sending an animl heart in a box to an ex, not recommended) but could be good excuse to indulge in some great meat (no tittering at the back please). Here’s a few suggestions from me:

  •  A little dried sausage, perhaps? A whole saucisson or two could be just the thing . Try a natural countryside rosette of whole smoked saucisson dried in an old fashioned fireplace by Roches Blanches.
  • Where’s the beef? Well, they won’t be asking that if they take delivery of 18kgs of Longhorn beef from Huntsham Farm. Every cut of beef you could want, from sirloin to silverside and plenty of mince in between. Renowned for their rare breed meat, this is going to be a gift of exceptional taste that will create a whole heap of meals for you to share happily together.
  • Want to see a look of confusion followed by delight? Try wrapping up an 8kg Serrano ham on the bone. It’ll look like you’re sending a haunch of something, but once they’ve stopped being concerned/laughing then delicious ham is guaranteed, for weeks!
  • Indulge them in the glory that is a proper pork pie with the only certified organic Melton Mowbray pork pie from Brocklebys. Made with organic Saddleback pork to a traditional 200 year old recipe, this is what a pork pie should really be like.
  • Valentine’s Day is no time to be mean, so be generous and go large. How about a whole traditional rare breed pig, all butchered and ready for great eating? Well Keythorpe Traditional Pork & Lamb can offer you just that. It could be any one of the rare breed pigs that they keep, but all are going to be interesting eating, or curing, depending on your loved one’s level of skill.


Salami from the Real Boar Co

  • For a slight tounge in cheek gift, how about salami from The Real Boar Co? Hopefully they won’t take offence and will get slicing these great British salamis. The Bit of Each gives you three tasty salamis and a chorizo, or you can buy the individual salamis. Great looking cutting boards and knives too.


Meat serving board


  • If they’re into roasts, then how about a meat serving board? I like the one that Jamie Oliver has, for having both style and substance. Looks good, spikes will hold the joint securely and the grooves will capture the juices ready for gravy making. Or just pouring directly back onto the meat!
  • For a bit of inspiration for recipes, then you can’t go wrong with The River Cottage Meat Book for almost the a to z of all meat. But I would guess most meat loving foodies already have that one, so perhaps something like Rotis by Stephane Reynaud or John Torode’s Chicken and Other Birds for something a bit specific.
  • If they would like to take things into their own hands, then there are some really good butchery courses around for the amateur. The School of Artisan Food has an introductory two day course, as well as Lamb & Mutton or Pig in a day, and River Cottage are, of course, past masters in this.

So, choose to indulge their favourite food choice, rather than falling prey to the norms of Valentine’s Day gifting. It will give them something to talk about, as well as something very tasty to get their teeth into.

Fabulous neon sign photo by SqueakyMarmot on Flickr and Saddleback pig photographed by Dave Hamster.


Just in case you need a foodie gift this week…


Beetroot Relish from Jamie Oliver


Just spotted that the Jamie Oliver sale is in full swing, and there are some good things to pick up, either if you need a gift urgently, or to put aside. I’ve written before that I think this is a great range of products, not just name stamping by Jamie but stuff cooks and foodies, big and small, would actually want.

There are scented candles, always a good standby. and canisters of tea (come on, how can anyone not like tea?) It would be boring of me to mention tea towels again but…! I’m also very keen on the kids gardening kits, as getting kids involved in growing stuff is one step away from getting them cooking it, which really helps with the eating of a bigger variety of stuff.

I would say this any time you are buying a gift, but particulary right now with what’s happening in Haiti, but please buy with thought, not panic, and really consider the person you are buying for, that they really will use and value what you’re buying them. If in doubt, donate what you were thinking of spending, and shop another day when you spot something they will really love.

Regardless of the discount, if they don’t love it, it’s not a great buy, and it’s certainly not a great gift! That said, I’d welcome pretty much all of these! There is a free delivery code, AA1W1A, so you could donate the delivery cost you’ve saved!


What’s coming up on the food front?

What does Google tell us about food in 2010?
What does Google tell us about food in 2010?

It’s the time of year when Google, Yahoo, Twitter etc report on their trends for the year, but they’re never very interesting to me, as 90% of the searches seem to cover celebs I’ve never heard of. But using the Google trends facility and putting in food gave out some interesting searches that are on the up in the UK. Here’s the top 10:

1. food vouchers – is there anyone who eats out on the High Street without first checking for a voucher or discount code? Can Pizza Express ever go back to charging full price? If the predictions of the economy growing worse are true, and the cost of food going up, then I think there will be more customers looking for these, and more restaurants having to do deals, just to stay open. Better open and busy at a 30% margin than open with no one in at full price.

2. good food recipes – I’m guessing that no one searches on bad food recipes though? Of course BBC Good Food dominates this, and I guess this recognises that more people are searching online for recipes. Which makes me wonder what they do with all the cookbooks they buy? Are they just for show? For reading in the bedroom?

3. bbc food recipes – see number 2. Seems the BBC have food all sewn up on the search front.

4. food poisoning symptoms – oh dear. Perhaps this is indicative of more home cooking, or perhaps even more foraging and wild food hunting. If you don’t know what it is, don’t pick and don’t eat. And what you are cooking, cook properly!

5. food hygiene certificate – notice the poisoning comes first. Not sure if that means the cooking is happening before the certification, but at least hygiene is on the way up. As opposed to food poisoning, which one would hope you can keep down.

6. pets at home – I love Google. I have no idea how you would get from food to pets at home. Personally I think it’s always best not to confuse food and pets. Certainly if you have cats, dogs or hamsters.

7. party food ideas – I would guess this is rising over the last few weeks, but I say hurray! Throw more parties with decent food. So far we have had a Mexican Strictly Come Dancing final party, and we shall be doing an Italian feast for New Year’s Eve. And somewhere in the middle I think there is room for a full on retro party moment. Bring on the cheese & pineapple hedgehog, a cheese fondue and a Black Forest gateau.

8. food recipes – not very original these searches, are they?

9. co-op food – I think this has probably been a really interesting year for the Co-Op, and it may well continue. They’re an interesting mix to me of real value driven food, and then really values driven, with their commitment to fair trade animal welfare and environmental issues. Their food also seems to have done well in taste tests over the Christmas period, so interesting to watch out for their financial results in the weeks ahead.

10. Caribbean food – not sure what might be driving this up. Levi Roots’ series was great, both in terms of recipes and stunning locations. And maybe as the weather has turned really cold everyone has just been wanting to summon up some sunny warmth in their food. The top result returned on this search is for the Caribbean Food Emporium, which has a fantastic range of recipes for every kind of occasion and meal. Break out the rum, and bring a little sunshine into the British winter.

I am not sure what we can conclude about the state of food in Britain, but it will be an interesting year to watch. Particularly when looking back and seeing that 2008 was all about Channel 4, Jamie Oliver and his Ministry of Food. And pets at home.

What can I say? Plus ca change…!

Google in Lego shot by manfrys.