Friday, 30 November 2012

Liquorice/chocolate meringue mushrooms recipe

I've been wanting to make meringue mushrooms ever since I made a Christmas log cake. I'm not crazy about Christmas cake or Christmas pudding so I tend to go continental at Christmas and make the log instead. Now what goes on a log? Mushrooms of course. It seemed also a good idea to surround the gingerbread houses I made for the Ocado Scandinavian supper club with some fantasy edible mushrooms. The North Pole myths of flying reindeers derives from the fly agaric mushrooms they eat. 
I tested a couple of recipes but recommend Joy of Baking's recipe (she really is brilliant and so dependable) but I added a couple of tweaks: liquorice and chocolate. Just like Scandinavians, I love liquorice, especially the salty kind. 
I played around with liquorice meringue recipes, melting liquorice and using essence of Liquorice but all I got was ugly brown meringues. Eventually I figured out the best method is to get some hard liquorice candy and grate it onto the meringue tops. The flavour is delicious.
Get some disposable piping bags as you are going to be doing alot of piping. I've doubled the recipe, so if you screw up a bunch then you have plenty more.

60 g of egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
100 g of white caster sugar
A large pinch of salt
A stick of hard liquorice candy (available from Fox's Spices Tel: 01789-266420)
Option: some cocoa powder.
A bar of good dark chocolate

Some red food colouring (if you want to make magic toadstools). (Food colouring pastes are the most intense).

Whisk your egg whites (I hope you have an electric beater) until they form soft peaks. Add the cream of tartar and the salt. Then add the sugar, slowly, while continuing to whisk on high speed. Eventually it should look glossy and stiff. 
Using a tall jug or glass to hold your piping bag (folded back so you can get the mixture into the pointy bit), scoop half of the mixture into it). Cut a point off the end. Not too big. Remember it'll get bigger as you pipe. 
Put a quarter of the rest of the mixture into another bowl and mix it with some strong red food colouring. 
Save the rest of the meringue mixture for sticking the tops and bottoms of the mushroom meringues together. Keep this in an air tight container or another piping bag.
Lay out as many flat baking sheets as you possess, covered with non stick parchment or, (I keep telling you to buy these and I hope you have), even better, silpats
Pipe the stems: holding the bag upright over the baking sheet, making sure it's CLOSE to the paper, pipe a sort of cone shape. With a wet finger, slightly flatten the top, you need it flat so it fits onto the cap of the mushroom. Some of the stems will fall over so pipe plenty. You want them straight and upright.
Pipe the caps: this is easier. Pipe circular rounds until it's about 2 cms high and 5 cms in diametre. Again smooth the top with a wet finger. 
Then grate the liquorice candy on top of the cap. 
For the toadstools, pipe the same cap in red. 

Bake the caps and stems on a low heat oven (around 100-140ºC) for about an hour. Make sure they don't go brown.

For the toadstools, make a teensy hole at the end of your piping bag and pipe little white spots onto the top of the red caps. Put back in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Now the white caps: once they've cooled you will notice that the bottoms of many of the caps are 'dipped' just like real mushrooms. 
Melt your chocolate. (30 second bursts in the microwave are the easiest way to do this. Do it for any longer than 30 seconds though and you'll have a disgusting burnt ball of chocolate). 
Using a pastry brush, paint the dipped underside of your white mushroom caps with chocolate. Then stick the stem onto the underside. Leave to dry.
Handle with care or they'll break.

With the toadstools, using the leftover white meringue mixture, stick the stems the red caps. Cap side down, place back in the oven for 15 minutes until they are dry.

It took me a couple of goes to get it right but very satisfying and magical. Let me know how you get on.
I will definitely serve these at my Hobbit meals at the Highgate yurt on the 15th of December. I think anything woodland is hobbitty don't you? 

Coming up:

Hobbits have 7 meals a day: 15th of December. Highgate yurt. (Elevenses still has tickets)
Secret Garden Club: growing citrus (with citrussy supper). 16th of December.  Book here.

That Food Stories about to demolish my gingerbread house/forest 
Served with blueberry soup and blueberry icecream for the Ocado Scandinavia meal.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Video/Recipe: How to make naan bread

I've never liked shop bought naan bread and Sumayya, who came over to help me cook for the Secret Garden Club workshop/supper 'How to grow your own curry' (to find out more click here),  explained why: it's made with yeast rather than bicarbonate of soda and baking powder. I was also interested in whether an Aga can act as a tandoor oven. I whacked up the Aga as high as it would go, safely, which turned out to be about 260ºc. A tandoor can reach temperatures as high as 480 ºc. Most domestic ovens will not go above 300ºc. I could probably push my Aga up to 300, but the mercury will go into the red and that makes me nervous.
So, a hot oven is needed to make naan, just like a pizza oven. With a tandoor oven you slap the tear shaped breads around the clay walls which are even hotter than the interior. You also spray it with water to create steam and humidity.

Naan bread recipe:

To make 6 to 8 naan:

325g strong bread flour
A pinch of bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 a tablespoon of salt
A pinch of sugar
1 beaten egg
150ml natural whole milk yoghurt
Milk to bind
Ghee to coat
Nigella seeds
Poppy seeds

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the rest of the dry ingredients. Add the egg and the yoghurt, kneading the mixture in a bowl. Finally bind together with some whole milk until you have a flexible dough mixture.
Before leaving the dough to rest, coat the dough ball with ghee. Leave, covered in cling film, for an hour.
Then taking a palm's worth of dough, make a round ball.
Scatter some flour onto a clean surface and roll out the ball into an oblong or tear drop shape.
Pierce the naan all along it's surface with a fork.
Then mix some ghee with some milk onto your fingers and smear it all over the top of the naan. This will make it moist and soft and enable the seeds to stick.
Sprinkle the Nigella and Poppy (white is more authentic) over the top of the naan.
Place the naan on the top of the oven on a cast iron crepe pan (these are fairly inexpensive in French supermarkets, under 30 euros, well worth the investment, or get one here) or a flat wide cast iron frying pan.
Even if you put the naan in the oven afterwards, placing it in a crepe pan enables it to keep it's shape.
After the bottom of the naan browns, lift the naan with a fish slice and put it on the floor of the Aga. Spray or sprinkle some water into the oven then shut the door.
It takes around 5 to 7 minutes to cook. You will see it puff up and bubble. This is very exciting.
Once you take the naan out, add a little more ghee to the naan. Sumayya made a 'bag' out of tin foil to keep the naans warm while the rest were cooking.

You could also make sweet naans with cinnamon or cardomom. Next I'm going to try to make a Peshwari naan with marzipan and raisins.

As Sumayya and I cooked, we talked about the differences between Pakistani food and Indian food. What we think of as 'Indian' in the UK is mostly North Indian food which is very influenced by Mughal/Mughlai cuisine, is rich, full of spices, with a cooked down sauce. Mughal cuisine is Muslim and therefore contains meat. (I remember ordering my usual take out selection for a friend from Manchester who, at the end announced, 'I've never had Indian food without meat before'). The Mughal culture and emperors originated in Persia and further back, Mongolia, so contains those influences also.  Of course most of India is vegetarian and to my taste, the best Indian food is contains the rich sauces and spices of Mughal food combined with Hindi vegetarian food.
But in the villages of Pakistan few people can regularly afford meat. They eat seasonally, plenty of vegetables and, to my surprise, not heavily sauced or spiced. Sumayya cooked a delicious sweet potato and tomato 'curry' which was actually quite plain, with little or no heat, not at all what we think of as Indo-Pakistani food. Pakistan is geographically quite an arid country and therefore more dependent on meat even without the differences between Muslim and Hindu religions. Pakistani cooking uses less mustard seed, curry and Hing (which is a souring agent).  In the villages they flavour their vegetables with cumin, nigella and coriander, because they can grow them easily.
Pakistan is a comparatively young nation, just over 60 years old, but despite partition, many vegetarian Hindus decided to remain there likewise many muslims stayed in India.
Sumayya runs a supper club in Maida Vale (ish), teaches Pakistani cookery and has recently appeared on Madhur Jaffreys' show 'Curry Nation'. She can be found @pukkapaki on twitter and on her blog.
Secret Garden Club 'Grow your own curry' event with home-grown spices and herbs. Read more here.

My coconut brinjal bhaji, recipe in my book as well as my coconut dhal. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Persia in Peckham and date canape recipe

One of the books I've most admired over the last couple of years is Veggiestan, a vegetarian cookbook which draws inspiration from the jewel bright cuisine of Persia. This was written by corner shopkeeper Sally Butcher, who owns Persepolis, a flourescent yellow fixture, glowingly located in the depths of darkest Peckham. Persepolis flies in exotic produce from Iran several times a week to fill its bursting and colourful shelves. It is a must visit for any food lover. I spent the day helping Sally tend shop as a prelude to a talk about my book as part of the annual Peckham Literary festival. 

I'm determined to cook my way through Sally's books, they are brilliantly written and, as she says 'recipes just flow' from her. I'd love to visit Iran, one of the worlds oldest cultures. 

I worked as a shop assistant for the day! I wore my aubergine dress which seemed appropriate for a Persian shop. 
The flame-haired Sally Butcher, author of Persia in Peckham and Veggiestan, at the till.
Top left: an unusual and tasty stew, quince and walnut, that Sally made for lunch; stuffed dates (recipe below). The teapot is known as Shah Abbas ware, a design that is on Iranian tableware,  which represents a 16th century Shah (ruler) but actually the image is of Nasruddin Shah. 

Labne stuffed dates canape recipe

Sally made these wonderful sweet/sour canapés. So quick to assemble and an exotic variation on what to do with the classic christmas dates. 

Labne cheese, a soft cheese, which can be bought from Middle Eastern food shops. You can also make this.
Use Bam dates (which can bought at Sally's shop) from Iran or the larger Medjool dates. Both are soft and fudgy in texture, and apparently low in GI. 
Lemon zest

First take out the stones from the dates, trying to keep the date as intact as possible. You want it to look pretty!
Then either buy or make labne. 
To make labne, you can use cow, goats or buffalo yoghurt. Place 600ml of whole milk yoghurt into a cheesecloth or muslin square and tie it up over a bowl so that the excess water drips into it. (I've also tied the muslin around my sink tap and let it drip into the sink overnight.) This takes 12 to 24 hours and yields around 300ml of soft white cheese. 
Mix the labne with lemon zest and salt to taste.
Stuff the dates with a teaspoon of labne and press a walnut into the top. 
I love poking around food shops in foreign countries and visiting Persepolis gives a similar thrill.  Salted sour cherries, dogberries, rose water sugared 'maggots', cookies that are flown in from Iran two or three times a week and infused waters. The latter are used for health purposes in Iran, a kind of homeopathic remedy for ailments. The best known waters over here are orange flower water and rose water, but the Iranians also use willow extract water, mint water, quince seeds, borage water and several others. Aspirin is derived from the willow tree, Iranians will have a few drops of this water in the morning for their health. These are all described in Sally's fascinating first book 'Persia in Peckham' 
Customers coming to Persepolis. Obviously many Iranians visit, travelling from all over London and further to get supplies, I met one gentleman who had flown in from Cyprus to buy Iranian food.  Locals also come in to chat to Sally and buy their favourite items.
Like any decent corner shop, Sally sells an interesting array of goods: dice, dried limes, loofahs, saffron flavoured candy floss and horrible fruit (Senjed, fruit of the Oleander) that taste like cotton wool. To find out more about what she sells, go to her blog.
Iranian food contains many sour flavours, which I love, even babies eat wincingly sour fruit leathers as snacks.

28-30 Peckham High Street, London SE15 5DT | 020 7639 8007
You can also order online. 
To get there, either drive and park for free for four hours at the local leisure centre almost opposite or get a train to Peckham Rye. 

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Scandinavian recipe: how to make aquavit

I'm creating a meal to show off Ocado's new Scandinavian range of foods. I'm going to have such fun using all the products, many of which can't even be found at IKEA. I also want to serve Aquavit, a typical Swedish 'eau de vie' (the linguistic equivalent of Aquavit, water of life) which is drunk in shot glasses as a chaser after beer. (Not the other way round, that's with tequila). Aquavit is rather hard to obtain in the UK but luckily it's very easy to make your own.  This is a strong alcoholic spirit that aids the digestion of food, a bit like a 'trou normande' and, of course, gets you drunk. It matches well with fish such as pickled herring.
I used Absolut vodka, which is a good quality Swedish vodka.
Add 3 tablespoons of caraway seeds to a bottle. Within two days, incredibly quickly, the vodka takes on the distinctive caraway flavour of Aquavit.
Then strain out the seeds and drink in a chilled shot glass after a Scandinavian beer.
I also tried soaking fennel sprigs and slices of lemon in the vodka. I'll leave it a few more days.
Another option, if you are a fan of salty liquorice, is to make a liquorice vodka 'schnaps' by adding salt liquorice sweets or even nicer, Turkish Peber sweets, which, like salty liquorice, contains ammonium chloride to give the distinctive 'salty' flavour.
I've been a fan of salty liquorice for two decades and plead with any Scandinavian visitors to bring me some so it's good news that we can now buy it from Ocado. Some people say it's bad for you and can make men impotent. I don't care, I love it.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Recipe: Marmite christmas tree biscuits

marmite Christmas tree biscuits
Merry Marmite Christmas tree biscuits 

Fudges marmite biscuits
Making Fudges Marmite biscuits 

Simon Cowell is responsible for a lot of things, not least rising biscuit sales in the UK. Nobody goes out anymore, people are staying in, watching Saturday night TV together and... this is so British...eating biscuits. (For further reading on this subject go to A nice cup of tea and a sit down)
This is good news for Fudges Biscuits, down in misty Dorset, often considered to be 'Britain's larder'. Fudges manufacture the best florentines in the UK and created a fabulously large range of biscuits to go with cheese. I used Fudges cheese biscuits when I ran The Underground Restaurant at Camp Bestival, to highlight the range of products, including good cheeses, from Dorset.
I particularly love their charcoal cheese biscuit, which not only looks great on the cheese board but charcoal is reportedly good for digestion, specifically flatulence.
Sue Fudge, her husband Graham Fudge, and her brother in law Steve Fudge (great surname for a biscuit making family) also pioneered the UK 'flatbread' biscuit in their kitchen. The whole family are bakers and confectioners, including Steve's two daughters who have started up their own artisanal biscuit business 'Percys'. Even their dining room is a former but very large scale oven.
Biscuits are therefore on trend. Costas coffee is selling a giant British biscuit range to dunk in their coffee, although I've heard differing opinions on how good these are. Earlier this year we saw a biscuit festival in London.
Biscuits are one of the oldest forms of food, recorded as part of the Roman diet, the word itself originating from the French, bi (twice) cuit (cooked). Being hard wearing and light to carry, biscuits are the perfect travel food. 

For my Patrick O'Brian themed supper club, I made ships biscuit or hard tack but only baked twice rather than the four times required for long sea journeys. I warned all customers that any dental problems as a result of eating it, was entirely their own responsibility. I made another early biscuit, almond ratafias, to go with coffee. The introduction of spices from the East in the 7th century led to ginger and spiced biscuits and sweetening of the dough.

I think biscuit tastes change as one gets older. As a kid I adored pink wafers, however I was also slightly in love with Jimmy Saville, who was seen as a jolly kids entertainer back then. Seriously messed up on both counts. 

Today I favour the 'sophisticated' coffee-iced cafe noir although I prefer them with a cup of tea. What's your favourite biscuit? Do you snap your jaws on classic Custard creams, Bourbons or Digestives?  Equally importantly, do you dunk? Or do you, like the Daily Mail reports, eschew British style biscuits for American cookies? And when it comes to cheese, do you eat it with bread, like the French or with a savoury biscuits like the British? I want to know...
fudges biscuit factory in Dorset
Fudges also make the Marmite biscuit, in the characteristic Marmite jar shape, but I decided to have a go at making my own very simple Marmite biscuits at a biscuit making workshop in Sue's dining room. I was very pleased with the result for these are rather addictive, perfect to pop in your mouth with pre-dinner drinks!

Marmite Christmas Tree Biscuit Recipe

500 g Self-raising flour 
250 g Butter   
330 g Mature cheddar cheese (grated)
A big pinch of salt
2 Eggs

Cracked black pepper
Christmas tree cutter

Mix flour, butter, cheese and salt in a food processor then add the eggs gradually. Mix together until it forms a firm dough.

Form the dough into patties and chill for half an hour.
Roll out on a floured board to a 5mm thickness and using your small Christmas tree cutter, cut out as many tree shapes as you can, placing them onto a sheet of greaseproof parchment or even better a silpat. Any scraps form together and roll out again. Use until finished.
Then stir up your Marmite and, using a teaspoon, drizzle the Marmite onto the little trees as if you were decorating them with tinsel, in a zigzag form. You could also grind some fresh black pepper onto them.
Place in your preheated oven at 160 degrees for around 15 minutes.
Biscuit making at Sue Fudge's house, Dorset.

Playing at biscuit making at Sue Fudges house: 

pistachio and sour cherry christmas trees; pecan and white chocolate cookies, orange and poppy seed orange slices; chipotle and dark chocolate cookies (I should have added lime zest). 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Cookery books for Christmas part 1

This is my by no means all-encompassing best of 2012 cookbooks list. It's just the books that I happen to have come across and bought or have been lucky enough to have been sent by publishers. Some are well known, others less so, all merit purchase. But one caveat: I cannot be certain that the named authors actually wrote them. I have been dismayed this year by the discovery of how many cookbooks are ghost-written, partly because I got to meet some of the members of the Guild of Food Writers. It became clear from talking to them ('hi, I'm actually Gordon Ramsay' said a polite non-sweary middle-aged woman who lives in the country, 'Oh nice to meet you' twinkled another lady who lives in the city 'I'm basically Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall') that virtually no TV chefs write their own books, their own columns, their own recipes. Even if they can write (I'm sure Hugh can for instance), they don't, because they are now a 'brand' and fronting a small multi-national industry of money-making offshoots.  Mostly cookbook authors have been signed up by publishers because of their brand, their ubiquity on TV, their fame, not because of their writing skill.
Therefore the kind of people who employ ghost writers are:

  • Chefs whose skill is kinetic, synaesthetic, they work with their hands, nose and eyes, they translate the flavours in their head to the plate. This very talent can mean that they are often virtually illiterate. Bill Buford in his book 'Heat' (definitely worth buying if you haven't got it) mentions Marco Pierre White had a photographic memory for plating but could barely write a sentence. Some chefs only got into food because they were offered a choice between a young offenders prison and a catering course, although perhaps that's changed now that posh people have decided it's ok to work in food. 
  • Beautiful women/models: we tend to think being visually appealing is effortless. They just wake up, shake their gorgeous mane into place, shrug on something tight and clamber out of bed on their long coltish legs and head towards the kitchen. Yes they have a few genetic advantages over the rest of us but attractiveness, is hard work in itself. For a start, imagine being on a diet for the rest of your life! Nothing tastes as good as thin feels, my arse! (My big fat arse.) Thin never feels as good as tasting lots of food in my greedy and not terribly humble opinion. 
  • Actors, soap actresses and presenters, who perform well on camera. Having done some TV I can tell you this is by no means easy. The hardest thing in the world is to be vibrant, warm, friendly and natural in front of the camera. Wariness, suspicion, the defences that we've all nurtured over the years to cope with life, the camera sees it all, behind the eyes. Although he's not an actor, this is why Jamie Oliver is a genius, he makes it all look so straightforward. 
But, it seems to me that there is no shame in not being able to write, merely that, in the age of internet transparency, it would be good if there was more honesty about this. There's been some interesting talk about this in the United States. Gwyneth Paltrow claims she wrote her book, but people in the know beg to differ. But, in part due to the skill of the ghost writer, the sleb writer believes they aren't lying because they really are convinced that they wrote their book. The good ghost writer inhabits the skin of the celebrity, takes notes, edits and sorts out their thoughts, they write what they think the celebrity would have written. I'm not sure that worshipping famous people is healthy for society either: while gazing at their heavily air-brushed photos, we are led to believe that celebrities are brilliant at everything. I'm sure this makes people depressed and inadequate. But hey, that's capitalism innit? Making people unhappy so that they spend more.
Sometimes these ghosted books even win awards while genuine cookbook writers do not. So why not bring this out into the open and have a best ghost-written book award! I heard that Heston Blumenthal insisted that his ghost writer also got an award when he won a prize at the Guild of Food Writers for his book. Now that's fair play.

Jerusalem The Israeli Yotam Ottolenghi and his Palestinian partner Sami Tamimi has done more to change the middle class dinner party than any other chefs over the last five years. Suddenly we are all using pomegranate syrup, za'atar and sumac, throwing together roast butternut squash, cracked wheat, charred aubergine, burrata and lentils. To say to your guests 'I've cooked something from Ottolenghi' marks you out as a chic but casual cook. Their work has had an effect also on how we perceive vegetarian food: thanks to them it's now colourful, vibrant, tasty, modern, international. It's no longer brown squat slop.
I went to Jerusalem earlier this year, only for half a day, but I'd love to return. It's an old soul of a city with many food tales sheltering in the shadows of its alleyways. I slung thin dough over a steel counter in the cave-like tenebre of Zalatimo, where you drink Turkish coffee, mint tea and eat mutabbaq, a thin pastry with sweet cheese, pistachios and sugar syrup. It was hard to make, you need years of practise but an easy recipe with ready-made filo is provided here.
This book talks about the hummus wars, for while some complain that the Israelis have appropriated this Middle Eastern dish, it's also a symbol of peace, breaking pitta bread together...and dipping it.
The book also contains recipes sourced from the Jewish and Arab diaspora who populate Jerusalem; for instance, unusual Georgian recipes such as Khachapuri which I mean to try. The book also contains lovely travel photography by Adam Hinton and food photography by Jonathan Lovekin.

For similar also see The New book of Israeli food by Janna Gur, one of Israels foremost cookery writers.
Confessions of a Kitchen Rebbetzin, which doesn't seem to be available in the UK, a humorous and entertaining kosher cook book was sent to me after my trip to Israel. A 'rebbetzin' is an orthodox Jewish woman who covers her hair. The author is Gil Hovav who I've since found out is the Israeli Jamie Oliver, a TV chef. I must admit, I was under the impression that the book was written by a woman! Can you imagine Jamie Oliver pretending to write 'in drag' effectively and take on the character of a devout housewife?

Faviken by Magnus Nillsen.  This book is a good read for chefs and restaurateurs, but it's not a book to cook from. It's more of an idea, to get a feel for the direction of modern Scandinavian food. Pretty children's story book cloth cover and good photographs.

I recommend reputed food writer Catherine Phipps' Pressure Cooker Cookbook I do like specialist books, focusing on one ingredient or one technique. Catherine's quietly competent book has tons of inviting and most importantly, thoroughly tested recipes, but has only one drawback, you need to possess a pressure cooker. I hope to rectify my lack of one soon. Having a pressure cooker makes financial and environmental sense when energy is so expensive.
Polpo I love the design of this book, the deconstructed build of it, the nude spine visible, enabling it to be laid flat. Russell Norman, the restaurateur/ author is the guy that made the Venetian word 'cichetti' almost as widely known as 'tapas'. It's all the same thing really, small sharing plates. The recipes are simple, in fact there are quite a few pages on different types of bruschetta which, lets face it, is basically things on toast, but you are likely to cook from it.
The art of pasta by Lucio Galleto and David Dale. This beautiful produced book by two Australian chefs surprised me because at first glance, who needs another book on pasta? Everybody knows how to cook pasta don't they? (Actually my daughter has just started university and she's been shocked to see how her flatmates cook. One girl put uncooked pasta, a jar of ready made sauce and some hot water from a kettle in a baking tray and shoved it in the oven. 'How was it?' I asked. 'Not bad actually' said the teen.) This book taught me new pasta recipes and inspired me to lust after a pasta stamp to make 'corzetti'. It also contains fantastic watercolour drawings by Luke Sciberras, so nice to see some art as well as photography in a cookbook.
Veggie burgers every which way by Lukas Volger. Again this is a single subject cookbook by an American cook and writer. There are pages of variations on the veggie burger and some good sides such as quick pink pickled onion slices. It's rare I look at every page of a cookbook and want to cook from it. This is one.
Prashad cookbook by Kaushy Patel. The Patel family own one of the best Indian restaurants in Bradford, curry capital of the UK (must visit). Kaushy is the mum.  Prashad restaurant was also featured on Gordon Ramsay's show the F word or one of those shows can't remember which. Love this book, it's the kind of approachable Indian vegetarian home cooking I like.

Here I am recommending a couple of gardening books too as presents for Christmas: The Urban Kitchen Gardener by Tom Moggach, lots of useful tips for city gardeners. Some new ideas: growing fresh coriander seeds (The Secret Garden Club is having a 'Grow your own curry' session on the 25th of November) and stuff I've never even heard of like 'mouse melons'.

Sweet peas for Summer by Laetitia Maklouf. This beautiful lady has written a follow up to The Virgin Gardener, her break out successful book. She's got style and artistry and there are wonderful little workshop suggestions. This is probably one for the girl gardener in your life as the book is so pretty.
I've also received some fiction books around the subject of food. They've all been awful, which is a shame as my favourite all time cookery plus fiction book is Heartburn by Nora Ephron who sadly died this year after a long illness. If I could write one book, this is the one I personally would like to have written. It's caustic, light, frothy, bloody funny and sad. The recipes work too.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Christmas presents for foodies 2012

Buy some pieces of Cornishware from TG Green or a vintage collector

Falcon are now doing a larger range of enamelware. I like this red and white bake set.

I'm always in two minds whether to keep my butter in the fridge or not. But for instant toast spreadability buy a proper butter dish. Like this glass French one by Rigby and Mac. £12.95

A good saucepan or frying pan will last forever. It's not romantic, you may have a few fallen faces on christmas day, but it's a damn good investment and the dividends will pay off over the years. I like the Green pan range, particularly the frying pan. The science bit: it's non stick but made out of a mineral material so it doesn't scratch or flake off. The handle is welded on so no wobbly handles.

I really must re-visit Portugal. This is a great Portuguese grocery and gift site. I'm a packaging fiend so I love these ornate vintage olive oil tins.
I'm kind of a food geek so I like stuff like this. It's fun to grow them for ten days so that the crop is ready for, say, a Sunday brunch. Kids might like this too. Espresso Mushroom company grow your own pearl oyster mushrooms box £16.50p
Hard to believe now but summer will come again. I like these indian patio umbrellas. £225 from Sorella online. I'd love one, but yes it's pricey.

Labour and Wait is one of my favourite shops. I'm on a lifelong quest for a decent peeler (I've also seen good ones at the Japan Centre).
I also like Labour and Waits chic version of school soap. Lemony! No soap sludge around your sink!

Marimekko stuff, as is everything Scandinavian, is currently cool and these pressed glass coloured icecream or dessert bowls in two sizes are bang on trend. Expensive though. Buy one for your gay best friend for christmas. 
Quintissentially gifts again are very expensive so a definite christmas indulgence. I like this UK map plate £30. Ouch!

Zinc ware has both vintage and industrial design appeal. This Waste paper basket from Scandinavian company Hus and Hem (house and home?) could be used for fruit and veg though. 96 smackeroonies. 

More zinc: a nice embossed tray from Utterly Gorgeous. Hard to find a good tray. This can be used indoors and out. 64 quid.

Pedlars has an ever changing vintage section on their site but those who know me know I love a well designed jar. Vintage Mason Jar £9.50p Don't use it for canning though. The vintage lid isn't safe for that.
I love the design of Tala's products. They've been going since the 1920s. Sugar shaker, 1960s style vintage, £7.

Vintage Pyrex is now a collectors item. So look out for it at car boot sales and charity shops. Pyrexlove is a great site for identifying the patterns. If you can't afford to spend much, then spend time looking for something cheap but unique.