The Friday Five – Making the most of sunny weather


As we approach the Bank Holiday weekend, we’re all living in hope for great weather. Which means we’re hoping for plenty of time outdoors, which means eating out of doors.

Whether that means a meal on the go, or at a table in the garden, then it’s time to enjoy summer eating. Here’s some great new books to inspire new recipes to try that are perfect for those occasions.


The Outdoor Table - a great cookbook gift for a food lover who likes to eat al fresco


The Outdoor Table – this is a bit American in theming, as we’re not big on tailgating in the UK, and not many front porch meals either! That said, I love the idea of an outdoor breakfast, for which there are recipes, if not guarantees of the weather! And I’m not sure when is the right time to serve the 7-layer bacon dip, but the book is almost worth it for that!


Swedish Summer Feasts - a great cookbook gift for a food lover who likes to eat al fresco


Swedish Summer Feasts – a blissful image of summer, this covers picnics, brunches and barbecues by the beach. Sounds perfect and when it has recipes like entrecôte with herb butter or potato fritters, then it’s going to be a summer to enjoy and remember.


picnic in provence - a great cookbook gift for a food lover who likes to eat al fresco


Picnic in Provence: A Tale of Love in France, With Recipes – even through bad times, my summers in France were filled, mainly, with great eating, particularly around tables filled with many friends, new and old. I’ve never been to Provence, but this tale, and the recipes, sum up my kind of summer, and ones I hope to create in time ahead.


The Picnic Cookbook - a great cookbook gift for a food lover who likes to eat al fresco


The Picnic Cookbook – how this one speaks to occasions I love: afternoon tea in the garden, a picnic lunch in the countryside, the smell of something good on the barbecue. Perfect recipes for each of these occasions, and then some occasions I’ve not thought of, like a punting picnic. But plenty of time ahead, and this has recipes to appeal to everyone.


The Picnic Book - a great cookbook gift for a food lover who likes to eat al fresco


The Picnic Book for Family or Romance – ah, now this really does sound like my life, and probably many others. A picnic for two would be a rare thing, but something to look forward to, and I’m looking forward to plenty of family style picnics this summer. Straightforward, interesting but not complicated, so not so much prepping time and plenty of time for making the most of the sunshine if we have it.

Here’s hoping this is a weekend to enjoy picnics and barbecues and even just a cup of tea and a biscuit in the sunshine. Fingers crossed!


Planning a great picnic


With a bank holiday on the horizon, we’re planning a picnic at an event over the weekend. Which means digging to the back of the cupboard for all the picnic stuff. Or taking a look at some of the new stuff that’s around!


Two person picnic hamper


If it weren’t for a gaggle of kids to cater for too, then I’d love this two person hamper which appears to have plenty of room for a couple of bottles, although not much food. What the heck, sounds like a good picnic to me!


Fleece Picnic Basket


Knowing our weather conditions, a picnic rug is a must, especially with a waterproof backing. I like this one, particularly with the fleece side to keep your bum warm on the ground. It’s also washable, useful for recovering from the inevitable spills.


House Melamine Picnicwares


I can’t be doing with paper plates, and am certainly not risking the china, so it’s got to be good plastic plates. I love the design on these plates, which are from John Lewis. Bold and modern, there’s a whole range of things for every kind of picnic.


Cold Drinks Flask


Now of course there’s probably a flask of tea, but equally need some cold stuff. Probably Pimms in my case. So a cold drinks flask seems like a good idea. Yes, I know all flasks can work for cold drinks, but I like the dinky little cups with this one.

So, we just need to sort out the food and drink, and hopefully the weather will play ball too. If you need some picnic recipe ideas, then I last wrote about great books in 2013, but think might do another round up soon. Anything other than some soggy sandwiches got to be on the menu.


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!


The Friday Five – Picnic time approaches!


Bring on the sunshine: picnic time!

I apologise to those parts of the country it doesn’t apply to, but this has been a fantastic week of Spring sunshine here. The cows from the dairy are back in the fields, the daffs are out, the lawnmowers are growling over the unkempt winter lawns…definitely signs that Winter must be almost done! Which kind of ties in with a book I was sent recently, and the thought of outdoor eating ahead is a happy one! Here’s a few to get you inspired on how to liven up your picnics.

The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches: Recipes, History, and Trivia for Everything Between Sliced Bread – I was sent a review copy of this, and must admit I quite like it! Its not a book I’d have bought for myself, but would make a decent gift. Some great sandwiches, variations, and bits of trivia, that could liven up that most everyday of foodstuffs. Besides, any book that features a chip butty is all right with me!

Savoury Snacks – A Collection of Recipes for Snacks, Hot and Cold, Suitable for Sherry or Cocktail Parties, Picnics, Informal Meals, Late Suppers and Other Notable Occasions When Light But Not Uninteresting Fare is Expected: With a Note on Savoury Butters by Ambrose Heath – come on, got to have this one just for the title. Ambrose Heath was a prolific food writer from the 30s onwards, and I love his books, and the jacket designs and typography. I’ve a feeling that this book could provide some great retro dishes for any upcoming cocktail parties for the Royal wedding, would feel kind of appropriate, but they’d be transportable as well.

Sunny Days & Easy Living by Lindy Wildsmith – just the title makes me want to be outdoors with something to eat and something cool to drink! This covers barbecues to picnics, elegant outdoor dining to casual family eating and even a few drink suggestions. Caramelised vegetable tarte tatin sounds intriguing, and pineapple and thyme loaf sounds like a good picnic cake, sweet but not too sweet. I’d wash everything down with a Summer Breeze, no matter what it is. Has rum in it, has good name, will drink!

The Great British Picnic Guide by Mark Price – this has it all really: recipes, equipment lists, how to transport the food and a guide to twenty top British picnic sites. It also has a cheat’s guide in terms of great local producers to stop at and acquire a picnic from. That’s not cheating, that’s putting fuel in the tank of great British food production! It’s our civic duty!

Picnic: 28 Seasonal Menus with 125 Recipes by Dee Dee Stovel – when you don’t want to have to think about what goes together, dig out this book and just put the whole menu together. I love the themes of some of these though: I want to go berry picking just to have the Berry Picking Picnic, although the Sports Booster Picnic sounds a little out of keeping for this household. And should you be skiing anytime soon, then there’s an Apres Ski menu too! Sounds fun, sort of book again that you may not buy yourself but imagine receiving quite gratefully.

So here’s hoping the sun will last! Get the ginger beer ready, the picnic hamper out (I’d like a new one from Joules please) and check the blanket is not moth eaten, and then pack your cagoule. Just in case!

Fabulously atmospheric evening picnic shot by cripics on Flickr.


Messing around around boats


How to see the regatta?


The British summer calendar clicks on, and today sees the start of Henley Regatta. I’ve always thought Henley sounded splendidly civilised, a bit like the cricket at Lords, just with more water. The gentle splash of oars hitting water, an occasion made for Pimms and cucumber sandwiches, and no need to leave dry land at all in order to enjoy the proceedings.

Apparently, yes, there are things going on other than eating and drinking. How incredible!

If you are attending and are within the Steward’s Enclosure, then there are a heap of dress rules to obey, but some good eating to offest this mild inconvenience. According to the website, one can obtain luncheons and teas, and also partake of a seafood restaurant, as well as a licensed bar or too.

By the time you get to the Regatta enclosure then it becomes lunch and afternoon tea. And it had better be good, as you’re not allowed to take your own. Unless you’re the Hairy Bikers I seem to remember. If you want to self cater, then this is a good guide here, and it sounds like it’s a case of get there early, or pay out the cash.

Now you could get those nice people at Fortnum & Mason to do you a lovely hamper or perhaps pop into the Windsor Farm Shop for a more free form picnic still with royal approval. There is a Waitrose in town as a good fall back, but how about something different on your way in? Try the Chiltern Valley Winery, which would find you plenty of interesting wines, and also beers from Old Luxters Farm Brewery. If you wanted great patisserie and breads, then I would head to Marlow and try out Burgers.

And this is not the time for tatty glasses and plates, so have a look round for some good stuff! I thought John Lewis had upped their game this year and have some good stuff in. I rather like the Kingfisher acrylic stuff, for a more sophisticated choice, and could also be tempted by the Summer Dot range. If you wanted to give this as a gift (and it’s something no one thinks about but often needs) then have a look at the Bright Dot 4 person cooler set. If you’re uninspired by a wedding list, I think going off list for something like this would be acceptable.

If you’re going to do the eco route, then forget most paper plates and their one time usage. Try the Eco Picnic Set by Bob By Post, as this can be used several times over, and then can just go in the compost bin. Good call.

So, have fun around the water, try not to fall in, and just occasionally remember to watch the rowing!

Great shot by winkyintheuk over on Flickr.


The Friday Five – Shaking up the picnic


Always time for a picnic


Wimbledon, Glyndebourne, cricket at Lords, Party in the Park…the picnic season is well and truly upon us. And lets face it, we’re in the 21st century, which means either go full on modern update to your picnic, or go retro. Need some ideas? Here’s 5 books that might help liven things up.

The Great British Picnic Guide by Mark Price – great mix of fabulous recipes not to mention 20 great places to pack up your picnic and head out to. Mark also gives you a guide on how to transport certain foods to ensure that they arrive in a great state.

Picnics by Hilary Heminway – I love how this book is put together. The contents include Picnics for One or Two, Aerobic Picnics (who knows) and, particularly important for the British weather, the In Case of Rain Picnics. Sounds like a perfect back up plan!

Retro Beach Bash: A Sun Lover’s Guide to Food and Fun – this is part of a range of books that is not easily available, but I’d love the whole set.  This one sounds perfect for planning a vintage Americana trip to the beach. Count me in.

Picnics and Other Outdoor Feasts by Claudia Roden – this is an expanded version of the original 1981 version and gives a whole range of options from traditional to exotic. As you would expect it does include street food from the Middle East and Mediterranean, so would really pep up a dull picnic.

The Urban Picnic: Being an Idiosyncratic and Lyrically Recollected Account of Menus, Recipes, History, Trivia, and Admonitions on the Subject of Alfresco Dining in Cities Both Large and Small – ok, so I just included this one because I think it has to be the longest title I have ever featured, but it does  sound interesting. I would imagine it making a great read as well as having some interesting menu options. If there’s room after the title!

Happy picnicing!

Fabulous retro shot of picnic by the lake by Lamerie on Flickr.


Bring on the picnic!


I am not looking how long this weather is going to last, but it makes me think that picnic season is well and truly upon us. Which means digging out all the picnic gear, and finding out what’s missing. And if I find our picnic blanket has gone missing, or has a big hole in it, then I’d like this one from Cath Kidston please:


My new picnic blanket, please


I love the retro look, the badges, that set me in mind of old suitcases and travelling. Which can be no better state of mind to enter a picnic with. All I need now is a decent coolbox, and some great weather, and I will be happy to have every meal as a picnic for the next few weeks!

What else do I need though? What makes the perfect picnic for you?


Quite possibly my favourite sale has started!



Glass cake stand to show off your creations - from probably my favourite sale


I’ve written many times about how much shopping I do at Not On the High Street, as it really does have unusual and unique gifts for pretty much everyone on my list. Not to mention a few things for myself finding their way into the basket! And now its sale has started, so the temptation is even higher. Here’s a roundup of the best bargains on offer for foodies:

1. There are some great cocktail kits in a box in the sale, from margaritas to cosmopolitans. Not a massive reduction at 10% but these are a good looking gift, a bit of fun, and will feel incredibly decadent to receive!

2. I’ve written many times about how useful tea towels are, for all kinds of purposes other than the original intended one. There are some very highbrow literary ones in the sale at half price, spanning D H Lawrence to Oscar Wilde.

3. For the mini gourmets, the personalised kids aprons will help to make them feel really special in the kitchen, which might be another reason for them to want to get involved. There are four different designs available, so something suitable for everyone.

4. I know a lot of people are still surrounded by lots of snow and ice, so it’s hard to think of warm, sunny days and heading out on picnics. But if you want to be prepared, not to mention green, then the eco picnic set could be a good advance purchase. There are also some funky Thermos flasks in the sale, to help keep something cool and delicious completely cool.

5. I got a glass cake stand last year, and I love it. If you’ve got a keen baker, then the stand in the sale is really nice. It’s also reduced by 40% and is now just £15.

Just a few things for the foodies! Try not to get yourself too distracted by everything else!


Last minute gifts for foodies this Christmas


Beetroot Relish from Jamie Oliver

You’ve been making a list, checking it twice, you’ve worked out what’s naughty and what’s nice. And now you’re having a sudden panic as you’ve counted up the presents and you’ve forgotten someone! If it’s a foodie gift you’ve forgotten, then never fear! Here’s some last minute suggestions you can still order in, so no need to brave the High Street just yet.

1. Jamie Oliver has some great stuff, without his face on it, that I think makes a great standby foodie present. There are good preserves and oils and, lets face it, you’re going to trust these more than some awful flavoured collection from the corner shop. A duo of beetroot relish and red onion pickle, wrapped in a funky teatowel, or a mixing bowl, would make a brilliant gift. Or I suppose I should have said a pukka present. Order by Thursday this week to guarantee pre Christmas delivery, and benefit from free delivery. Perfect!

2. Treat them to a different foodie day. All of the major experience companies offer very interesting days, and most still seem to be guaranteeing pre Christmas delivery. From Virgin, you could buy the Cupcake & Cocktails Experience, or learn some new dishes at the Novelli academy or spend a day cooking fish with Keith Burke. Not quite doing it for your foodie? Try Red Letter Days or Buy A Gift or check out the fantastic courses for real artisanal food at The School of Artisan Food, from patisserie through to wild yeast baking.


Love it or loathe it, it's a great gift


3. Heal’s have some great foodie gifts, and you’ve got through till midnight this Sunday to order from them. Truly a present of love if you hate the stuff, but if your foodie loves the stuff, then they have a great Marmite gift. I’ve featured the pate gifts before, and you’ve got a choice of game, meat or fish, so something for everyone. There’s some cool stuff in their barware section, like the Beer Cooler Zinc Tub, ideal for the beer and party loving foodie. Looking forward to warmer days ahead, then I like the Metrokane Wine to Go Neoprene Carrier, perfect for picnics.

4. For the serious foodie with expensive tastes, then London Fine Foods is perfect hunting ground for great gifts. They have everything from Beluga Caviar to White Truffles, milk fed Pyrenne’s lamb and fabulous Jamon Iberico de Bellota. There are gift boxes on offer or, if the choice is too much, gift vouchers! The provenance and quality will make any foodie’s Christmas morning!

5. For your pick of great foodie presents, it’s also still not too late to order from Natoora. For most of the UK, orders can go through up until 22nd December, some parts of London are the 23rd. There are beautiful boxes of macaroons (watch this space, I say 2010 will be the year of the macaroon) and panettone, and if the choice is too much there are some great hampers already put together. Check out the Pure Indulgence and Great British Christmas versions.

That should keep the foodies very happy with their presents come Christmas morning, and should keep you happy by shopping from the comfort of your own chair!


Christmas gifts for foodies with no food involved


Crack your nuts in style


I love it when the Cox & Cox catalogue arrives, particularly now the Christmas one is here. Looking at it with a specific task of finding something for someone who adores food and everything associated with it is not difficult. It might be the only gift you give them that has no actual food involved! Here’s my choices:

1. For the home bakers and cookie queens, I would check out their cookie cutters. By Christmas Day it may be too late to give the festive ones, or it could be useful for next year. There are festive snowflakes, ones to make a cookie Christmas tree and also a great jigsaw piece cutter. If they are very artistic then they may like the gingerbread house cutters.

2. For home loving cooks with open fires I suggest the extending toasting fork. Can there be anything better than toasting a crumpet by the fire? Useful for use around the campfire too, when summer comes back around!

3. For those who love their nuts, then how about a fabulous chestnut roasting pan? Or crack their nuts in style with a cute but functional squirrel nutcracker. And for a bit of nut innovation, check out the walnut key which makes opening them an absolute breeze.

4. For lovers of liquid refreshments, I love the very stylish silver plated wine cooler. This looks incredibly beautiful and tasteful, as well as being expensive looking but without the price tag. A good edition, or for foodies who have taken the pledge, then the matching water jug is also very beautiful.

5. For the smallholders and keen gardeners with fruit trees, then the five drawer apple rack is perfect for keeping the fruit in great condition throughout the winter. You could also keep potatoes or onions in it, it’s beautifully made and sure you will find space for it somewhere.

6. For foodies with a love of the great outdoors, I would choose the “invaluable” picnic knife. As long as you don’t subscribe to the Japanese traditions, where you would never give a knife, it signifies the cutting of ties. If you’re confident in your ties, then this knife is perfect, particularly as it has an inbuilt corkscrew. Everything a perfect picnic needs!

If you’ve not got to know Cox & Cox before now, then Christmas is a perfect time to start. These are unusual things that you won’t find on every high street, offering something a little more unique for your loved ones.