All year round, I get asked for recommendations from both friends and strangers as to what equipment I use in my kitchen, food and drink that I like and what could I recommend to make the perfect gift for a food loving friend or loved one. Birthdays, Christmas, Hannukah, any excuse to give a gif really… It’s useful all year round especially when you are struggling for inspiration.
With the festive season rapidly approaching, I thought it was high time to put a list together to share with you in manner of Sound of Music’s “These are a few of my favourite things!” – I would like to add, these are GENUINELY things and brands I like, use and respect and I have not received payment or goods in kind to endorse these. Just good old fashioned useful tips and pointers to (hopefully) give you some inspiration in a season that drives us mad with the “Oh-God-what-do-I-get-so-and-so-for-Christmas?” panic! I am pretty sure you will end up buying a few things on the list for yourself… and why not? Treat yourself; it IS Christmas, after all!
Go on, try and find a useful (and recent) British book on finger food, canapés and just simply wonderful, inspiring creations in miniature. Ten years ago, I tried to find a book just like this, written well and packed with interesting, innovation ideas and FAILED. I just think that this is the kind of book that novices and more seasoned cooks among us need on our shelves. I love the recipes are inspired by flavours from around the world which makes things that little bit more exciting. Definitely a must for anyone who likes entertaining… or eating miniatures masterpieces!
The fact that this book includes recipes from thirty-nine cuisines makes it a winner for me. Whilst we all have the top Chef books and comfort food go-tos, this is really a great book for people who love to explore new flavours, new dishes and entirely new cuisines. Definitely one for the serious cook, no matter what level of skill or expertise, this isn’t terribly complex food, this is good food both known and lesser known from around the world. As a seasoned cook, this is the kind of book I want to read from cover to cover (you know, in bed… we all do it!) and then earmark some recipes and get stuck in. As Chef Jose Pizarro says, it is “World cuisine on a plate”. Exactly that, and brilliant, to boot.
KITCHEN MUST HAVES (Things I love, want and cannot live without!)
This is truly something I cannot live without. It really is the best grater I’ve found and chefs swear by it although for some reasone the ‘Artisan’ version, like this, is half the price of the normal one. Bargain. Choose from 3 different grating plates, a great present or stocking filler.
Sainsburys - Turquoise/Orange Tagine Dish & Harissa - £13 (normally £20) – Available in store only
I wish I could find the image for this online but I have tried to no avail. Think your traditional tagine conical earthenware pot but this beauty is varnished in turquoise Moroccan print and is a real eye-catcher but also thoroughly useful (not to mention reasonably priced) but only available in store in the Christmas gift section. It is currently on special offer and even comes with some Harissa spice paste inside. This would be a perfect gift for anyone who loves cooking or just entertaining as a beautiful centrepiece to a feast. Still can’t believe it’s only £13! RUN, don’t walk, to snap one up!
The mini processor is the one bit of electrical kit that gets the most ‘exercise’ in my kitchen. I never bother chopping onions anymore, I just whack them in this. For stew bases, making meatballs and sauce, this is a lifesaver. I also rely heavily on it for making pestos, chopping nuts, making marinade and curry pastes. Its small enough to really grind things down but a little bigger than most mini processors, which is a godsend. My big processor rarely gets used these days because of this beauty.
I get inundated with questions regarding which knives I use at home and professional and the truth is that I use IO Shen for both. They even sell a super easy knife sharpener which has been a godsend to me and I cannot cook anywhere without them. They are used by the likes of Jamie Oliver, Gennaro Contaldo and many top Chefs to boot and it’s no wonder why! They are really quite reasonable and if you threw ALL your knives away and replaced them which just one single knife, IO Shen would have to be the one. A sharp, high quality knife makes chopping and prepping so much easier. So many homes have blunt knives! My favourites are the Sahm Khom and the Cooks Knife but I own over a dozen; if you want to choose one gift to change things for the better in your kitchen or as a gift for a serious cook in your home, this is the knife you need.
This is something I am completely and utterly in love with. I must admit, I don’t yet own one but it’s on my list and I have used them on Saturday Kitchen. They are absolutely beautiful and I am desperate to add one to my collection. (Santa, are you listening?) The fact that they are limited edition makes them an extra special gift and being Le Creuset, means they will last a life time if you look after them. A friend said his Grandma passed hers down to him and I am pretty sure several decades of use would have been involved there. Something to treasure, not just to cook in. Sigh.
I cannot live without these frying pans. Simple. I own two, one large and one small. They are toughened non stick, which means you can crust all kinds of terrible things to the pan during cooking (you know those occasions when you soak a pan for days to try and remove the burnt bits?) but with these, a simple soak and a good scrub using steel wool and I kid you not, EVERYTHING comes off and your pans are clean! SCRUB A NON STICK PAN WITH STEEL WOOL? I know, shock horror but this is why I love these pans. They also conduct heat beautifully, the same as all Le Creuset pans and go straight into the oven too. Now you know why I cannot live without them. Best pans ever.
Maybe this is a vanity entry but I do love these salt and pepper mills and they are available in a variety of bright colours. This is my kind of Christmas present…. Bright, stylish, useful every day, what’s not to love? Again, Santa… are you listening? I need these in my life, preferably in blue please!
Not sure if it is my inner Capricorn goat but I am mad about goat cheese and once upon a time, it used to be St Maure de Touraine from France that would rock my world, that was until I discovered Brockhall Farm in Shropshire who make the most incredible selection of award-winning cheese. And (even better) they come in a beautiful box and can be sent to you or some lucky recipient! My favourite cheese has to be the Pablo Cabrito but the Dutch Mistress is also really special too! So say it with cheese this Christmas or just treat yourself to a box, lock yourself indoors in your fluffiest PJs with some crackers and gorge yourself silly.
God I love brownies. What’s not to love? Cake + chocolate = my kind of heaven! Apart from the freakishly delicious brownies lovingly made in Wales by Gower Cottage, the other incredible bonus is that THEY DELIVER. It could be Christmas ALL YEAR ROUND! Brownies by post ALL YEAR ROUND! Ok, so you get the picture… and they store beautifully in the fridge and are make a lovely gift too. If you can bring yourself to not consume the whole lot before giving them away.
Paul A Young purveyor of chocolates with the same addictive properties as crack. Seriously. If you asked me what are my favourite chocolates on the whole planet, I would tell you that nobody makes a chocolate that tastes better than Paul A Young’s sensational salted caramel chocolates. CRACK. But what I was thrilled to discover is that a large part of his Christmas range contains Persian-inspired flavours and creations… and guess whose flavours have inspired this new range? MINE! Me! Excuse me while is do cartwheels around the house. But not for this reason, I highly recommend the stunning array of chocolate in his beautiful shops and keep an eye out for the spiced white chocolate ‘Persian Bar’ and other Persian treats. In today’s world, Willy Wonka has got nothing on Paul A Young.
If you don’t love chilli, then don’t even bother reading this section (and shame on your for not loving chilli!) because The Ribman is a London legend in his own lunchtime. The kind of cult adoration that follows The Ribman is really awe-inspiring. He is loved all over the nation and even gets regular orders from Australia, California and South Africa. Pretty much the world over. Sauces like (forgive my swearing…) Holy Fuck, Bacon Holy Fuck, Fucky Yuzu, Christ on a Bike and Holy Mary Mother of God… But controversial names aside, the depth of flavours in these sauces are incredible. But BE WARNED, they are seriously hot and not for the faint hearted but make great presents and store cupboard staples, alike.
I do love elderflower. From cordial, to desserts and liqueurs, I really do love cordial. Not the biggest drinker if I’m honest and mostly teetotal these days, I recently tried Warner Edwards Elderflower gin and feel compelled to tell you it was stunning. Gin was always my drink of choice, when others couldn’t stomach it, I absolutely loved the taste. I also love rhubarb, so you probably know what I’m going to say next, right? Yes, the rhubarb is also rather marvellous too. In fact all their gin is. But what I really loved it the miniatures trio box set; a perfect little gift or stocking filler for the gin connoisseur or just appreciator of really good gin.
When you first hear about vodka with black truffle, you do wonder if someone is just taking the mickey but I can promise you, this is a beautifully smooth vodka, well made with a fabulous and not overpowering finish. Its absolutely stunning and really very special, that it would be wrong of me not to share it with you. Considering its key luxury ingredient, it really is quite reasonably priced compared to many other vodkas and it makes for wonderful drinking on the rocks or in a cocktail as I have made in the past using pomegranate and apple juice with mint. Definitely a really special gift for anyone or just a great addition to your own drinks cabinet.
Sipsmith makes excellent gin and vodka. It is really that simple. They are known for it and take great care to create superior gins and vodka that are hugely popular with anyone in the know. Their Damson vodka was my autumn tipple, with a little cloudy apple juice but their Sloe gin is really very special indeed. They also make Summer Cup (kind of like Pimms but WAY better and more grown up) which I love but all this winter weather begs for Sloe gin if you ask me. Great value and you can choose from miniatures half bottles or full bottles, so something to suit every budget and make the recipient a very happy chappy (or chappess!) indeed.
That’s a wrap… quite literally! Hope the list helps your gift buying this season!