Getting to grips with bread making


This is bread’s big week, and you could really throw yourself into the whole thing just with the basic ingredients or perhaps you’d like some inspiration on where to start. Or maybe you’ve already got the basics cracked and want to move on a bit? Well, here’s some thoughts on courses for everyone, whatever level you’re at:


The Artisan School


The School of Artisan Food – this is the closest school to me, and their course comes highly recommended. For a while we had a baker in the village who did her course there, and loved it. There are day artisan baking courses, all the way through to four days or even a full scale Advanced Diploma in Baking. There’s a even a Wheat Free Baking day which I find really appealing. Amazing location, truly stunning, although not the easiest place to get to if you’re not local.

The Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School – I saw Richard demonstrating bread making at the Real Food Festival a couple of years ago, and it was definitely a demo to remember. The school would also have the draw of being in Bath, one of my favourite cities, so a class would be a treat all round. Again, there are day courses through to three or five day versions. There are classes based on French bread, and also breads of the world. I’d particularly love to go on the Middle East and North Africa class, a style of cooking and baking that I really love.

The Amazings– if you’re in or around London, only want a couple of hours, and want to learn from someone who really knows it, then I have to mention the Amazings. I love this idea, learning from our elders, and the bread course is about baking in the French way, taught by a transplanted Frenchman. Now, it’s being taught in French, so you might get to brush up your language skills at the same time but his wife is on hand to translate as well! At only £30 this feels worth giving a go if you’re nearby, but looks like it is selling quick!

Bread Matters – again, this is a lovely scenic location in the Scottish borders, but also they say that they run the most authoratitive courses on real breadmaking in the UK. Big claim, but Andrew Whitley certainly has good credentials. There are fundamental courses through to advanced courses, even baking for a living or baking for a community courses if that’s where you think your future might lay. Though probably need to start practicing getting up early now!

The only challenge I can see with being on a bread course is holding off eating everything in sight! Or should that be in smelling distance? Would imagine spending the day hungry and then full of bread. But there are worse ways to spend a day or two!


Homebrewing cider – a great starting point for beginners


Get your homebrew cider off to a great start


Last year we went to a communal apple pressing at one of the local farms, which was a great village event. It also led to BFF’s fella going on to brew his own cider. With kind of mixed results.

There was an unfortunate clash of events, but we all thought it would have been a great idea for him to head off to the School of Artisan Food for the day, to experience their Introduction to Artisan Cider Making. If you’ve got someone with an equal taste for cider, the good news is that there are 3 different dates coming up, all with spaces on them currently.

I love that you get a combination of history and hands on stuff, and you can even take apples and pears for identifying, and possible pressing. Everything you need is there, and there’s an informal lunch provided too. Plus the course finishes in time for you to head into the farm shop to stock up on some great meat or cheese to go alongside your cider!

And should you not want to do cider making, then you could always get crafty with material at Hope and Elvis, also on the Welbeck Estate. Although not a great sewer and stitcher, I’ve had some very happy hours messing around with fabric in Louise’s studio, and highly recommend it!


Giving the gift of learning


Gifts can be all sorts of things. Lets face it, they can be mediocre, they can be laughable, they can be things you hope never to see again. Or they can be joyous, surprising, laugh out loud fabulous and memorable for years to come. And for me, giving someone the gift of a new skill, or upgrading a skill they already have, is a great gift, creates great memories, and in my area of interest, likely to lead to some great food as well!

There are, of course, some hugely well known schools, with quite large enrolment fees attached, so I’ve tried to feature some of those that are slightly more wallet friendly. Should you have won the lottery, then just ring for Raymond now! Otherwise, here’s my choices:

* Top of my list (in case Santa is reading) would be a course at The School of Artisan Food. Actually, what I’d love to do is do their full on diploma in artisan food producing, but given the need to pay the mortgage I’d settle for artisan ice-cream making or even cider making. Buy gift vouchers if you can’t decide, or book a course if you know what they’d love. Beautiful surroundings, and an incredible farm shop on site will make it a day to remember.

* Activity Superstore have a fairly wide range of cookery classes and experiences on offer, everything from kids classes to Japanese food, cupcakes to knife skills. You can watch and learn with chefs like Jean-Christophe Novelli, or just enthusiastic cooks looking to pass on knowledge. And if you’ve got it wrong, then they can always switch to anything else on offer, like bungee jumping. If they must!

* Dr T and MGG did a foraging walk with the team from Food Safari whilst we were at Harvest at Jimmy’s earlier in the Autumn, and loved it, and I’d certainly be keen to join one of their courses. There is more unusual stuff here, like Wild Meat in a Day or Free Range Pig in a Day, or you can go a little simpler and just make some wonderful bread. Another huge benefit, the courses are mainly in the Suffolk countryside, so stunning surroundings as well.

* For something a little different, how about a day with Ivan Day, food historian and food lover. Learn about things like period sugarwork and confectionery, or late Medieval English cookery, even jelly and moulded food. Courses are two days long over weekends, and cost £290, excluding accommodation. Based in the Lake District, there’s plenty of choice of places to stay at every budget, and quite sure a day on these courses would certainly give some new insights into the food we eat today.

* Divertimenti is one of those shops that most cooks could lose a lot of time, not to mention money in, and their cookery school offers the same kind of diversity as well. As with most, you can book a course or buy vouchers, and it may be difficult to make a decision on which one. Great, intriguing names as well, like Tempting the Dragon or Fast and Hot, Slow and Low. There are also great technical courses, and fun courses, and just great demos to turn up to.


Give them something to look forward to in the New Year, and something to look back on for months to come. Just remember to encourage them to practice their new found skill on a regular basis, and the course almost pays for itself!

Photo by Goldhahn & Sampson.


I am a cider drinker, I drinks it all…


Time for cider drinking!


Actually, I’m really not a big cider drinker, associate it with too many hangovers in my misspent youth! But it does seem to be one of those things having a bit of a renaissance, perhaps a reaction to the Magners phenomenen. Which I’m told is not really cider at all.

So much of a renaissance going on that BFF’s fella is attempting to brew his own cider from windfall apples. I’ve suggested that she might like to book him onto the new Introduction to Artisan Cider Making day course at The School of Artisan Food up at Welbeck. Taught by Simon Reed, this is geared towards beginners and gives you a great start in making cider and perry. You get refreshments and a light lunch, plus all the knowledge, for just £95 for the day, which would seem money well spent to me for a new skill.

If you want to try some cider from small farmhouse producers, then try Cider Punk, who offer a variety of brews from small producers in Somerset and Herefordshire. There’s farmhouse cider, oak barrel aged cider, and even something called Janet’s Jungle Juice! Bristol Cider brings in producers from much further afield around the UK, including South Wales, Kent and Shropshire.

I didn’t know until I began looking into it that there’s a pretty local supplier to me, with Torkard Cider based at Hucknall in Nottinghamshire. Sounds like they have a great product, winning a number of CAMRA awards. and some great names, such as Floppy Tabs, 2 Bees and Sheep Wash. Or if you want to try the current “Champion Cider of Great Britain” then you need to be getting your hands on proper cider from Sandford Orchards with their Devon Scrumpy.

I thought that The Naked Guide to Cider looked like a great book to buy for a cider lover too. Not only does it give you instructions for making your own but also a guide to the top cider pubs around the UK. If you can wait a couple of months, there’s also a new book coming out called Making Craft Cider – A Ciderist’s Guide.

And just stay away from “cider” with ice in it! They won’t thank you for that.

Cider shot by mik_p on Flickr.


The Five Things That Would Be Great to Find Santa Had Brought


So, I’ve given you the most awful 5 that people have been looking for, but the good news is that all is not lost, there are some great things being looked for as well! Here’s some good choices that I think someone will be happy to receive come Christmas Day!

* Andrew Shorrocks Lancashire Bomb – great cheese, nightmare to wrap and they’ll never guess what it is!

* Wild food foraging – this seems to be a growing trend, that I’m quite sure will continue through next year. There are some great places offering day courses on this, such as Food Safari or with Mat Follas and the team at Wild Garlic, or through the River Cottage team.

* Pie dish and flour shaker – I cannot think of a more useful couple of pieces of kit for the year ahead. I think pie making will be making a huge return, as we seek both comfort food, and a tasty way to use up leftovers. Tasty frugality will rule! I wrote earlier in the year about the Boots one I had my eye on but I also really like the retro enamel versions that Lakeland have as well.Something very comforting about those.

* Cobb Barbecue System– this really does seem to be the ultimate barbecue system, without being a humongous barbecue with 27 grills, 19 drawers and taking huge amounts of gas. Portable and flexible, it seems like what you can do is almost endless. If you’ve got a barbecue enthusiast and are running out of ideas, then this may just be the thing.

* Home smoking and meat curing course – quite a lot of people looking for course and experiences, rather than just stuff. Learn a practical skill, no doubt eat some delicious stuff, and strike out a little further on what food you can create for yourself. Try The School of Artisan Food, or Buy A Gift offer a learn to smoke and cure gift experience.

There were several more that I thought showed good thought being put into gift giving, and I also really like the combination of things and experiences. And these all strike me as things that someone receiving them would really value, and get a lot of value out of. Which is more than you can say about those on the bad list. And when money is tight it really feels that it is more important than ever to get great value for money.

Here’s hoping Santa delivers you more of this kind of gift than the 5 odd ones!

Great shot by Mandi Berg on Flickr.


What are the foodie dads getting this Father’s Day?


Celebrating our food lover dads


Nearly time for Father’s Day, which is always one of those events that catches even me by surprise. It needs something else just after it, like the way Mother’s Day works with Easter. And events involving chocolate always have my attention!

So, if I were shopping for a Father’s Day gift for a dad with a strong interest in food and drink, what would I be thinking of? Here’s a few thoughts:

For cheese loving Dads – If there’s not a decent cheese shop nearby, then I would try one of the gift boxes from Pong. The Best Dad in the World gift box includes Oxford Isis, Bath Blue, Swaledale Old Peculiar and Banon, plus great cheese biscuits from Fudges. Neal’s Yard are also offering a great selection, not biased by the inclusion of Colston Bassett Stilton. And for something even more artisanal, then try Sole Bay Cheese, who have about 70 different cheeses on offer at any one time. You can buy a selection, or a voucher to let Dad make his own choice. (UPDATE: sadly Sole Bay Cheese is no longer trading)

For meat loving Dads – how about sending Dad on a course to brush up his knife skills? The School of Artisan Food have a one day course dedicated to making carving the Sunday roast a breeze. And he gets a roast lunch thrown in too! Big Barn gives you access to all kinds of small producers around the UK, like Heritage Prime and Farrowby Farm. I’ve never tried Donald Russell but plenty of people rave about their beef in particular. And if he’s big into steaks for the BBQ, then how about a branding iron?

For bread loving Dads – surely the bread loving dad already has a Panasonic breadmaker? I would send him to a class at The Bertinet Kitchen, because this is fabulous for moving on your breadmaking skills and is also in the beautiful city of Bath. There are versions from one day to five, and would cover everything from regular bread through to French and Italian varieties. Or if it’s out of budget (3 days is £500, plus your other costs) then you could buy him Richard’s books instead, Crust or Dough.

For gadget loving Dads – so much choice. I love Divertimenti and Heals, but you can’t beat John Lewis for a backup. Or Lakeland. Or, if they don’t have to be too serious, then try Firebox. There’s the Garlic Zoom, the AeroPress Coffee Maker and BeepEgg, the singing egg timer, to name just three.

For sweet toothed Dads – so many possibilities again! I love Chocolate Trading Co for variety and bringing great houses within easy reach, many launching stuff with them first. I’m giving serious thought to the Best of the Best Dark Chocolate Bar gift for someone. Melt is very trendy, and I particularly like the Chef’s Chocolates, and have a certain weakness for the Olive Caramel Bonbon. And there would be William Curley’s sea salt caramel bar and pretty much anything from Artisan du Chocolat. But you know I think even the foodiest of Dads would enjoy a nostalgic moment or two with a box from A Quarter Of. Parma violets, sherbet fountains, cherry lips, gobstoppers…everyone deserves at least one day of sugary nostalgia!

So, what kind of foodie dad is yours? Love to know what you’re buying him. I know men have a reputation of being difficult to buy for, but I think food lovers are easy to buy for, as there are so many possibilities. I haven’t even got started on the travel possibilities! But if you want some food for thought, drop him a ticket to Paris and then check out Meeting  the French (read this entry on He Eats to get an idea on what he could get up to).

Photo by Eash on Flickr.


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.