Accidentally Imbibe – much gin

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I did not expect to go into Olympia and the Imbibe festival this afternoon and sample things!

There was gin, vodka, rum, whisk(e)y, beer and cider. I tried to focus on gin because that’s where I’ve been recently. A good gin with a nice balance of botanicals is a good thing. An unbalanced gin, while still drinkable is not as much of a pleasure. I’ll still drink it, but I won’t enjoy it quite as much.

Of all the drinks in the above carousel, I would say the standouts were:

  • Conker gin
  • Portobello Road gin
  • Cucumber gin was not good, but their sparkling water was great!
  • Wild tiger rum has potential and a vanilla aftertaste which isn’t even an ingredient.
  • The Poitín was a revelation. I had no idea it was even legal!
  • Jim Beam Rye was so much better than the twice barelled.

All in all, a great way to accidentally spend an afternoon!

As an aside, this annoys me about Wales. We have prodigious volumes of water, but thanks to the mines, it’s so often polluted. The guys at Penderyn have their own water source up in the Brecons. Is that a cheat?

Kitchen utensils – the essentials

Kitchen utensilsIntroduction

Having the right kitchen utensils is really important. I don’t mean some fancy motorised gizmo costing £400, I mean the basics, the simple things we use every day that make our cooking slick, fast and easy, so we don’t even have to think about what we’re doing. So here is a list of tools I cook with nearly every day that make my life happy.

The essential utensils

Garlic press. Favourite utensil.

Ever since British cooking came out of the post-war dark ages in the eighties (thanks Delia!), garlic has been a staple of our cooking. This is probably a function of the Italian cooking which we love so much, starting with pizza, progressing through pastas and into the more exotic. A garlic press is something I use most nights either for crushing garlic into a Chinese dip or a simmering, gentle tomato sauce. The one I have is heavy-duty like this one though I daresay IKEA will provide you with one somewhat simpler and lighter. I just like the heft of it.



Knives are really important. So important, Amazon won’t let me build a link to them. Bizarre.

Try this link instead.

A good sharp knife is really important. I tend to use maybe three regularly: A nice large cook’s knife, around 9″ in length. The one I have replaced the one in the set which died. A small paring knife used for smaller, fiddlier jobs like boning meat or removing the seeds from chillies. lastly, a serrated bread knife. In the olden days I had a small serrated knife for things like tomatoes, but if your main knife is sharp enough, you don’t need it. I also have a meat cleaver I almost never use but have for Asian cooking completeness. Of course, being a foodie, you buy nice artisan bread so a bread knife is essential but being serrated and bread being relatively soft, sharpness isn’t really an issue.

Saucepans and Frying Pans

These are pretty important, but I would say, don’t go over the top. I’ve had IKEA’s basics, rubbish left by landlords in rented flats and decent ones. For saucepans we have a second or third above cheapest set of stainless steel saucepans with lids. For frying pans, a small and large pair of non-stick. I’ve just been told to use a heavy steel frying pan. I remain to be convinced. Woks, we have two, both just basic ones from the Chinese supermarket. As long as you can get them hot enough, you’ll be fine.

One thing to remember, I’m looking at you shakshuka, is that if you ever plan on putting a frying pan in the oven, make sure the handle is metal or else the handle can take up to a 200C temperature.

Vegetable peeler.

A device I use pretty much every evening and pretty much essential for dealing with things like, say, potatoes. They’re cheap and since they’re impossible to sharpen, I’d regard them as disposable to be renewed every year or two. Treat yourself. A nice sharp one is a delight. It glides across surfaces!


Baking tray.

These are essentials you don’t really think about. Perfect for popping shop-bought pizzas, quiches, or fish cakes in the oven, or most things that aren’t cooked in a depth of oil. I’ve several in my cupboard from really cheap, battered, tinny (and ones to more recently acquired Teflon(tm) covered ones.


Roasting dish.

Aside from the obligatory non-stick metal roasting dishes, I’d heartily recommend a good, heavy ceramic dish. I was given a lovely square Kuhne Rikon one which makes sublime roast potatoes. This will also double as a lasagne dish. There’s only two of us most of the time, so I’ve got a half-sized one as well as one half that size that’s just about right for a rhubarb crumble for the two of us.


Box grater.

Yes you can get little flat mandolin things, but the box grater gets the use in my house. The coarse side works for cheese and vegetables. I especially like it for grating carrots for carrot salad. The fine grater gets used for zesting citrus, usually lemon or lime but occasionally orange or grating parmesan. The slicer gets used for slicing, for example cucumber as a prelude to salad or pickling. The fourth side I have no idea. Suggestions welcome!

We have a food processor which almost never gets used. The last time was months ago, probably for prepping loads of root vegetables for a soup. Good job I didn’t spend much on it! Yay Morrisons!


Knife sharpener.

This is a contentious one. In a previous life I’ve had a long thin sharpening steel, but that went the way of my first marriage. I then acquired a gizmo which with a few swipes will render a knife sharp enough long enough to glide through the skin and soft flesh of a tomato. Then, somewhere along the line we acquired a whetstone. Maybe it was even an heirloom. I’m not allowed to use this. My wife was a sculptor and has very strong opinions who such a thing should be used. All I know is that afterwards a blade is sharper for longer. So I would say, well worth learning to use. 15 degrees apparently is the secret.


Sieve and colander.

These things gets a lot of use. The sieve gets used in baking, obviously, to sieve flour. Then they get used at both ends of the cooking process. At the preparation end, for holding things while they’re rinsed under the tap, then at the finish for draining and possible short-term storage.


Chopping Boards.

Unless you want to wreck the surfaces in your kitchen, you’ll want a chopping board. I’ve seen people get quite heated as to what kind of chopping board to get. Plastic ones are easier to get spotlessly clean, but wooden ones allegedly have natural compounds that keep bacteria under control. Then, if you get wood, what kind of wood should you get? And if you get wood, how thick should it be? I’ve got a couple of boards, the larger is bamboo. If you’re planning on serving charcuterie and sliced baguette on a board then go for the larger. That’s about it unless anyone has a better idea!



In following a recipe, measurement is pretty important and therefore it’ss essential to have a good set of scales . Retro folks might like mechanical scales but in the 21st century there’s no excuse for not being digital. I tend to use mine for measuring flour, sugar or butter and not just for cakes!


The rest.

The rest you’ll probably pick up in your local supermarket: cake tins, loaf tins, muffin tins, sweetcorn holders, skewers, egg coddlers and such. You can get these cheaply and easily in your local supermarket.

We mustn’t forget blenders. I have a small countertop one, but the hand blender gets more use. It just saves transferring the soup to something and back.

An electric kettle is a bonus. I’ve found the absolutely cheapest sometimes taint the water with a plastic taste so maybe get a slightly more expensive one.

If I’ve missed anything, please let me know!

HelloFresh recipe box – review, tasty

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 21.14.54There was a half price bargain to be had, so we took the plunge and got a couple of HelloFresh boxes at half price. Tuesday morning they arrived by truck incredibly well packed. The refrigerables packeded in insulated bags and all the other ingredients portioned into little boxes of a size appropriate to the recipes, or in some case more.

Over two boxes, the recipes we got were:

  • Paprikás Csirke – a Hungarian paprika chicken dish. A dash of honey and soy sauce at the end, lifted the dish somewhat.
  • Beef Enchiladas – There were enough tortillas left over, we had this again for lunch again the following day. Probably my favourite.
  • Pan Fried Chicken with tarragon sauce – a simple sauce of tarragon simmered in crème fraîche.
  • Honey mustard sausages with read onion gravy – the sausages were tiny and the gravy a cheaty version of the one I do, but the real revelation here was cabbage that was quartered, fried lightly then baked in the oven in stock. This I will cook again!
  • Jamie’s grilled chicken with green bean salad – fairly classic, lemony Jamie.
  • Salmon baked on a bed of walnut-herby mushrooms with cerleriac fries. Sorry, there’s nothing to commend celeriac, it’s a vegetable of winter desperation. The mushrooms however, were awesome.  The texture of the nuts and the flavour of lots of fresh herbs. Amazing.

So there we have it. Would I do it again? Probably not. The recipes were easy enough but nothing you couldn’t do with a recipe book and a supermarket. I think my expectations were for more umami and more exotic flavours. Good enough though and if I were a busy executive with a career, wife and mistress, it might be tempting. 3/5.