Guardian Reader Recipe Swap: Buttermilk

Guardian reader recipe swap

Buttermilk has long been a favourite ingredient of mine. I use it liberally in marinades, dressings and cakes, and particularly like it to tenderise meat and chicken. I was so thrilled to be included in last weekend’s Guardian Reader Recipe Swap in their Cook Supplement on Saturday, along with loads of other gorgeous sounding recipes. I was tempted to send in my mother’s recipe for Buttermilk Rusks- one of my most favourite things to eat, ever. South Africans are great rusk eaters, and I know that you may be thinking of the baby-type rusks when I use that word, but what I in fact mean are a sort of vanilla, plain biscotti type of large biscuit- roughly cube shaped, and consumed in vast quantities by almost all South African households. The Afrikaans word for Rusks is Beskuit: and the most famous Brand name is Ouma- which in Afrikaans means “Granny”. Ouma Buttermilk Rusks, in my opinion, are just wonderful, but my mum’s were better. She used to make them in such vast quantities that she mixed them in a huge bucket, and had to call my father to help her mix the dough- and even he would struggle with the volume. Once the dough was baked, you would turn the baked tray out , break up the soft cooked dough into rough cubes, place them back on trays, and allow them to dry out in a low oven overnight. Then, once completely dry, they would of course be dunked into large cups of tea and coffee. The tins of rusks never lasted long in our house as my father was a fiend with them, and still is.

Anyway, I digress. Today’s recipe is a reminder of that one I posted months back- the Buttermilk Oregano Chicken Wings. I made them again last weekend and they were just a good as I remember. I’ve posted The Guardian Link below, and also my recipe again for you. Enjoy!

Guardian Reader Recipe Swap: Buttermilk

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius

Ingredients:

1kg chicken wings

1 ½ cups buttermilk

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tsp Maldon salt

Good grinding black pepper

1 clove garlic, microplaned

Handful fresh parsley, chopped

Zest and juice of ½ a lemon

To finish the sauce off:

30g salted butter

Small handful chopped parsley

Method

Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Massage the marinade into the meat. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight, if you can.

When ready to roast, allow the wings to come up to room temperature. Place, with all of the marinade, into a medium sized ovenproof dish and roast for 45 minutes. You want them to be snug; you don’t want them too spread out. If you have a fan oven, ensure they don’t dry out, and cover with a tin foil lid or similar.

You will, however, in all ovens, need to turn the wings regularly so that they brown evenly. Once cooked, remove the wings from the dish, and keep warm. Scrape all of the sauce from the dish into a small saucepan, and add the salted butter. Bring to the boil, and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes, whisking every now and then. The sauce will have reduced by this time. Add the extra chopped parsley to the sauce and stir well. Pour the sauce over the wings, and serve immediately.

A Slice of Green

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Jute Basket in Denim, Sporks, Cork & Bamboo Canister and Organic Cotton Stripe Apron

I’m very happy to announce that The Plain Kitchen has teamed up with A Slice of Green, sister site of Green Tulip, a hugely successful and trusted marketplace for contemporary ethical gifts. A Slice of Green focusses on Kitchen and Homeware, and their beautiful products are sourced from around the world and support sustainable living. From food wraps and bags, to reusable containers and partyware, A Slice of Green is a one-stop shop for kitchenware, gifts and homeware- all under an ethical roof.

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Sporks, Cork & Bamboo canister and serving platter

When you visit The Plain Kitchen, along with all of the other search bars, and Bloglovin’ icons and buttons, you will now see a little button which will take you through to A Slice of Green, and their beautiful products. It can be really tricky to find ethical, organic and eco-friendly gifts and kitchenware items that are aesthetically pleasing: but this is not the case with A Slice of Green. There are so many products I’ve got my eye on: the jute baskets are beautiful, the cork and wood canisters just up my street, and the Abeego food wraps are a godsend for clingfilm and tinfoil addicted cooks like me. I’ll be writing a little more about the Abeego wraps in a forthcoming post, so watch out for that- I’m a bit of a convert to these clever little squares.

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Bread & Butter Pickle, and A Wonderful Weekend

The plain Kitchen food blog

It has been a fortnight of friends and fun in little Primrose Cottage and elsewhere; rather a lot of eating, drinking, and putting the world to rights over late night chats and attempting to watch Meteor Showers (a few sighted: not as good as last year, sadly). Long walks to clear slightly foggy heads the next morning have helped matters, followed of course by more eating and a little bit of relaxing, papers and the Olympics, a few cricket balls in the garden, children building forts in the house and nagging to go on the iPad, and the dog insisting on pushing the guests off the sofa to reclaim his self-appointed rightful place. All I can say on this last matter is thank goodness we have understanding guests. What a pleasurable, happy few weeks it has been. I am in fact writing this post while listening to The Food Programme on Radio 4, and Diana Henry is making me long for an aperitif, particularly a glass of Fig Leaf Wine, with lots of ice and soda water. Have a listen if you can- Andy has promised me he can “forage” some fig leaves for me, and I am going to make a bottle of this delightful sounding tipple, even if the Autumnal bluster is upon us: I shall simply pretend it is still summer, at least for the next few weeks!

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This weekend I relied on a few old favourites and tried a few new recipes too. Spiced Duck salad, that trusted reliable of mine inspired by my Cape Town aunt Siobhan; a green and vibrant platter, on which you liberally add toasted walnuts, grilled peaches, goat’s cheese and fragrant, beautifully pink duck. This was accompanied by my creamy sunblush tomato jalapeno lentils that I’ve posted before- the lentils remain one of my favourite little bowls to do- and are so, so easy. We have masses of green beans in the garden, so the barbecued, sliced ribeye steak (from our local butcher, the ones I rave about) was joined by tahini cauliflower (I probably wouldn’t pair these two again, I have to say) and a huge platter of lemony, garlic green beans sprinkled with toasted almonds- a real nostalgic number. I dipped into Stephanie Alexander’s writing, and made her Carrot Almond Cake with pine nuts, from The Kitchen Garden Companion. I adore Stephanie’s cooking and writing- if you haven’t read and cooked from her books, I urge you to do so. They are great, wonderful tomes, and will give you many hours of pleasure, both in the kitchen and on the table. I made a very simple (but very sweet) Turkish Delight Semifreddo from South African Tina Bester’s beautiful little book Comfort. The semifreddo was served with raspberries, which provided a slightly sharp contrast to the semifreddo- looking back, I would like to have macerated the fruit with a little basil, or mint: I think this would have worked well, and I may not have included the chopped delight, opting simply for the inclusion of Rose Water. The Almond Pine Nut Loaf was served with dollops of mascarpone and double cream that I had added honey and vanilla to- again, perhaps cinnamon would have been good with this too. Turkish delight semifreddo

I may have mentioned before that my mother was Queen of Preserves and Pickles, and I shy away from making these as hers were so so good that I know I will never match Sandy’s output. However, I have always had a soft spot for Bread and Butter Pickle, and I decided to adapt one of her recipes, and came up with this one. It will keep in the fridge for ages, in sterilised jars for a few months, I reckon. Mum always poured liquid wax on top of her preserves and pickles, and then within the wax set a little wick, for easy removal.  I will forever remember lifting those wax lids with my little fingers, desperate to reveal the jeweled contents of the jars- it was one of my favourite things to do in the kitchen, and preserves and pickles will always have a heady promise of pleasure for me.

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We spent last night with more dear, dear friends- who just happen to be the most exceptional cooks, and I am still dreaming about that table of platters: smoked meats, salads and bowls of gorgeous vegetables, followed by an equally resplendent pudding table- Salted Caramel Chocolate Cakes, Rose Water Syllabubs, Ricciarelli, and Baklava- just to remember and name a few. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes wake up after a quite show-stopping meal, and curse myself for not having eaten more, wishing that perhaps the leftovers that now hide in the hosts’ fridge would in fact be resident in mine. I certainly felt like that this morning! I love telling Barnaby that we are going to see Alison and Frank. He adores them both, and when I told him we would be eating with them, he replied. “Oh GOOD. They are SUCH good cooks, they are. Remember the SALMON, mummy?” I love how his little food memory bank is being made, an amalgamation of family and friends’ cooking, love, and offerings, close times spent with people, and simply doing that thing we underrate so much these days: hanging out.

Friends, and being together. What could be better?

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Bread and Butter Pickle Food blog

Have a wonderful week, everyone.

Bread and Butter Pickle

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

3 white onions, peeled, halved and finely sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and microplaned

10 small mini cucumbers, finely sliced

1 jalapeno chilli, chopped

1 red romano pepper, chopped

1 heaped tbsp table salt

1 1/2 cups white wine or cider vinegar

2 cups caster sugar

1 1/2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds

1 heaped tbsp turmeric

2 cloves

1 tsp celery seeds

Good grinding black pepper

Method:

Sprinkle the salt over the chopped garlic, onions, cucumber and pepper. Cover and leave for 2 hours, and then squeeze the excess water out and discard the water.

In a large heavy based saucepan, heat the sugar and vinegar until it reaches a boil. Allow to boil for a few seconds, then add the spices, and stir on a simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strained, squeezed onion mixture to the spiced sweet vinegar, and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. remove, and allow to cool. Please taste for seasoning. Serve immediately, or store appropriately.

The Best Tools For The Job

The Plain Kitchen Best utensils

Cooking and being in the kitchen is such a subjective and emotive thing; so many people (me included) love being in the space, and can think of nothing better than time spent in the kitchen. So many people, however, also fear the place a little- people who aren’t naturally predisposed to cooking can find the whole thing a little daunting. In writing the blog over the last year, I’ve had many enquiries, texts and emails about my methods, my ingredients, where to source certain things, and of course, many queries about what tools I couldn’t live without- that’s been the most common comment- “What would you say is your best tool? What do you use every day? What couldn’t you live without?”

Well, I can’t pinpoint exactly which is my absolute favourite (although, if you have read any of my recipes, you will probably say it’s my Microplane). I decided to write a few posts about what I consider to be my most useful tools and items in the kitchen. Today’s post is about the top ten little tools, the ones I really use every day, or at least every second day or week. I’ve not dickied up the images, I’ve not bought new tools just for the photo opportunity- these tools you see before you have been used, some have food still attached to them I think, some of them (at least in the case of the peeler and the wooden fork-spoon) I have had for at least 16 years. Bearing in mind that we have only been living in England for 19 years, and arrived as poverty-stricken newlyweds with only our backpacks and sleeping bags, I think that’s pretty good going.

The next equipment installment will be next week, where I focus on larger implements such as pots and the like. I think the one common theme you will find running through these lists is that each tool is not used for only ONE thing. They double, triple, quadruple up their function, and are therefore extremely good value for money.

I haven’t provided links to buy the tools, but where appropriate, I have included a brand name where I think it is of utmost importance. We are all ok with googling things, so I have left it up to you to see where the best deals can be found.

I have also resisted the urge to work backwards, ie, leaving the best till last. I have started with my best and favourite Number One, and worked down to Ten. Each tool I adore, and have been known to pack all ten in my suitcase on holiday (ok- a fib- not the Pestle and Mortar!). Enjoy- and please, please let me know of any tools that are your best and favourite.

Number One

The Microplane

I use this every day, without a shred of a lie. I use it for garlic- mostly, but of course for lemon and other zests, and for parmesan cheese, when I want a fine, translucent, instantly disappearing sort of finish to my parmesan. I use it (probably weekly) for ginger- peel a knob of ginger, and there you go- you are left with the most wonderful ginger paste after microplaning it. I wish that I had never wasted money on silly garlic crushers and presses- I wish that I had known more in my youth (but then again, isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing). I did make the mistake, however, of purchasing a plastic framed Microplane, instead of the metal and rubber one you see before you- and it didn’t do as well as this one. The Perspex/plastic cracked after too much use and washing, so it really wasn’t the best buy. I would love to have a few more Microplanes in my collection- their range has grown since I first purchased the tool, and they all look pretty impressive. My favourite thing about the Microplane is that it stays unutterably sharp throughout its life, and it doesn’t retain smells- I shave garlic cloves, only to rinse it under hot soapy water, dry it, and then zest a lemon for a cake- and there is no hint of the flavour that preceded the lemon. Invaluable. Buy one now.

Number Two

Hand Held Blender

I’ve had a few of these in my time- as have most of us, I reckon. I know they are called stick-blenders too, but, like so many culinary phrases (pulled pork, and brunch, just to name two) I just don’t like the sound of it. So I opt for the rather more convoluted “Hand-held Blender”). I’m fussy with words and their sounds, and I am known to physically shudder at certain words when they are either written or uttered. I do not think I am alone in this. Don’t get me started on moist, or writhing, either.

Back to basics. This particular blender has lasted me the longest- and it was from John Lewis. Fingers crossed it lasts me another 8 years… what I would say is please, please do not buy melamine/plastic ones- they crack, stain and are not worth it. Go stainless steel all the way. I use mine probably every day of the week: I blitz smoothies with it, pestos, milkshakes, salsa, seeds, herbs, dips, soups, sauces- the list is pretty infinite. I never submerge the half of the blender that has whizzed up the sauce in water- I only rinse the blades under running water- that front part of the implement is the only thing that is rinsed- and I think this has prolonged the life of my blender. I always do this- I never submerge any implement that I know is going to be plugged or inserted into another electronic device in water- partly because I shy away from electricity and water (I know it’s not actually ON, but in my mind the link is still there) but also that I think it’s not necessary- I am a “clean as you go” cook- on an everyday basis- I wash and stack as I have used something, as it is generally me who washes up (I use my dishwasher for large things and plates)- so it makes sense to clean and rinse as I go, if possible. You will never regret this purchase. I promise.

Number Three

Wooden Fork-Spoon

Now, this is my own little weird amalgamation. I had, years ago (about 16 years, I’d say) some wooden salad servers, and one night while cooking I needed a fork to break up the mince for a ragu, and I was using a non-stick frying pan- I couldn’t use metal- so I reached for the closest thing in the drawer which was the wooden fork part of the salad server duo. It was perfect- utterly perfect- and it remained my sauce stirring companion from that day onwards. You can see just how knackered it is- I like how I have worn it down on one particular tine, I love how it is stained with the thousands of sauces and stews it has been a part of, and I love how it isn’t a proper thing- it was a make-do and mend sort of thing, and it has proved itself a hundred times over. It also, as I am using it, reminds me of Patti, my godmother. I have mentioned before that two of my strongest influences growing up after mum died were my godmother Patti, and my aunt Soozi- both homemakers, cooks, creatives and all round good-eggs. Beautiful women, strong women, and women who are with me (even though oceans are between us) every day of my life. Patti makes “Patti Mince”- you know those meals that make you feel safe, comforted and loved? Those ones that transport you back to the smells and sights of your most secure childhood places? That’s what Patti Mince does, and she has a similar spoon, which as I write, I can see before me. My spoon-fork is part of my life, and I hope will be a part of my future, too, no matter how knackered it gets.

Of course, you can buy wooden forks from anywhere- try to spend a little more on them, otherwise they are liable to split, and of course, oil them well before use to discourage breaking and splitting. I have to say, I am rather pathetically attached to mine, and when I use it for a sauce or stew, I think it imparts something inexplicable and precious to the meal. I can hear you laughing at me already.

Number Four

The Silicon Spatula

I have a lovely little family of these- they remind me of a squished flat skinny little Barbarpapa family- the wibbly wobbly silicon in their pastel colours, all at angles with each other in my utensil jars and holders. You do need a fair few of these- in differing sizes, it must be said. However, if you are to buy just one, please buy a mid-sized one such as this- it will do you very well indeed. Also, please do not buy a plastic handled and plastic blade type one- one where the entire thing is made of rubber or plastic, and I’ll tell you why. Most often, through lots of use, the plastic blade part at the top becomes disengaged from the handle, and of course, not only is this a bit unhygienic as all sorts of detritus gets caught between the handle and the blade when you try to put it back together, it is quite the most infuriating thing when you are scraping your perfect mounds of pavlova-snow onto a baking tray, only for the blade part to rip itself away from the handle and lose itself in the mounds of sugary egg white. I lose all sense of humour when this happens. It’s not worth it- pay a little extra (as is, generally, the case) and your spatulas will last you for years and years.

What do I use mine for? Everything. I hate waste, so I scrape off every last bit of egg mayo, pesto, sauce, stew, jam, cake mixture- anything- and the variety of sizes help with this. The little ones go round the curves of a mortar perfectly, the larger ones do their best in the bowl of a Kitchenaid. Go for it, and get the whole Barbarpapa family of coloured spatulas.

Number Five

Pestle and Mortar

Of course, this comes as no surprise. I am sure you will all have one of these, from little tiny ones, which quite frankly are useless, to giant, cumbersome yet beautiful ones capable of making a pesto to feed the five thousand. Mine, however, is a compromise. It’s mid-way. But the most important thing is that it is made from rough granite- and this is what you need for speed and excellent pounding and blending. I used to have small little thing- and it was no good. I was glad when it broke, as it forced me to buy another. I’m a bit funny like that- and I suppose it’s a hangover (in a good way) from my very frugal mother. I use something, and make the best of it, until I really, really need to replace it, or it breaks, or the dog chews it. As I have grown older, I have realised that perhaps I do not need to masochistically torture myself (literally and figuratively) by using inappropriate implements, and I do now invest a little more regularly in tools- but the frugality, I have to say, stays with me. I love this pestle and mortar- I use it to pound seeds, crack open pods, pound fresh and dried herbs, grind peppercorns, smush up fruit- so very many things. If you are wary of spending a lot on yours, don’t forget that outlets such as TK Maxx often have such items at a greatly reduced price- it’s worth a look.

Number Six

A good peeler

There are a plethora of these highly dangerous items for sale, and it can really, really be difficult to know just which is the best (and, ahem, safest). I go on about the safe bit because I have cut myself a thousand times with knives and peelers, but then again, I am not the most agile and co-ordinated of creatures, so perhaps it is just me. This is an OXO brand- and I think it far surpasses any I have tried. I have used stainless steel handled ones (heavy and cumbersome) I have used ones you slip on your finger (Well, seriously- is that not an accident waiting to happen?) And I have used exorbitantly priced, fashionable multicoloured numbers which do not swivel and therefore are not worth their salt. This little one is great- if it had a fault, it would be those little rubber gills you see on either side of the peeler- you can see where one side had been eroded, from where I use it so much. Washing the peeler and using it a great deal causes the rubber to perish. Perhaps they have changed the design recently- I don’t know. This peeler has been used almost every day for 16 years, and I love it. The blade swivels, so hugs the curves of a carrot well, the size of the blade means I can thinly slice courgette and the like, and it washes easily. It’s just perfect- although, because of the black colour, be careful of throwing the implement away with the vegetable peelings. It can become camouflaged. My little boy has used this peeler for years- it is safe for little hands too.

Number Seven

One good knife

I have a very strange opinion about knives. And, I have a confession to make. I use Kitchen Devil knives a lot in my prep- which are completely frowned upon by the cooking world, I know, but I adore them. I remember walking into a Kitchen shop that thought itself way above its station, asked if they stocked Kitchen Devils, and the gentleman closed his eyes at me, shook his head disparagingly, and said, “Oh, we DON’T do THOSE here. Perhaps you could try Robert Dyas?” To which I curtly thanked him, left the shop, and of course bought my Kitchen Devils elsewhere. And then told everyone how awful the shop was, and continued, for the next ten years, to buy all of my kitchenalia from other, far friendlier places. Be kind, and be lovely, and be polite- it doesn’t cost much. Woe betide those who can’t abide by this basic human principle, I say. The one pictured above isn’t a Devil- it’s an expensive, good knife, and again, their are so many excellent brands out there that it’s up to you really as to what’s best for you.

Most of my Kitchen Devils are serrated- and I will be writing about them in a second post, but this little number in the picture is a great non-serrated knife, which I use for everything- chopping veg, of course, but it’s the best for finely chopping herbs- which I do every day. I use it to slice rare steak, carve a chicken, debone a lamb, and fillet a fish (I am rubbish at that last one- but I try). It may not be the exact, precise tool for each job, but, in a daily cook’s kitchen, it does the trick. Buy well- please. Spend a huge amount on one good knife, and then, as I will explain in a later post, buy Devils.

Number Eight

Kitchen Scissors

Or, “Soozi Scissors”. Scissors are Soozi’s favourite kitchen utensil. And, now they are mine, too. You will never, ever, chop bacon again. As I mentioned with Patti, Soozi was my other mum growing up, and really, in Soozi’s books, if scissors could do it, why in God’s name would you use anything else? The funny thing is, and I suppose this is why Sooz loved scissors, is that she was a designer, and seamstress- the sewing, quilting, making, tapestry, embroidery, bloody everything that came, and still comes out of this woman’s home is unbelievable. She helped me make my Matric (Prom) dress and teenage fixations (mattress ticking fabric skinny jeans, anyone, with copper zips at the ankles? I thought not). She made my wedding dress. She made my baby’s quilts. She taught me, a million times, how to join the groin part of a shorts and trousers pattern together properly. Although, it must be said, I sewed them together wrong far too often, and she made me unpick them every time. Scissors are one of our lifelong tools in our family, and I think all of us have a myriad of Fiskars lying about the place. Woe betide anyone who used my mother’s (or Patti, or Soozi’s) scissors. “DO NOT use my sewing scissors!” was always the yell at my father, my brother, my cousins, anyone: those of you who are makers will know the sacrosanct nature of scissors. If you use them for the function they are not generally used for, you blunt them and ruin them, and you are in deep, deep trouble.

These scissors of mine in the kitchen are “cheapies”. They are not Fiskars or any other very good brand, and I will tell you why. I have a young son, who loves to make, do and help around the kitchen, and he uses the scissors for anything and everything. I have decided that, for the last 7 years and next few too, these are my kitchen scissors which I’m quite happy that he uses too. We sharpen them on our slipstone (more about that little number in another post) and they are perfect for slicing bacon, spatching a chicken, and, using tips facing downwards, chopping herbs in a bowl or tub. I use them to chop marshmallows and chocolate bars and to open Tetrapaks and parcels and silly food nets. If you haven’t ever prepped bacon using scissors- do it now. You will be amazed at the speed and excellence of the things.

Number Nine

Metal Whisk

Now we are starting to think about not really-everyday cooking, but, perhaps, weekly cooking and prep. I adore my whisk- I have another, bigger balloon silicone whisk, but truth be told, it is rather cumbersome, and I don’t think gives the clean whip this one does. Try to find one with a heavy stainless steel handle, so that you get a good grip on it. It must be all steel too- very important, and good for cleaning too. I use mine for white sauces (I make a lot of these), cream, dressings, egg whites (I use the Kitchenaid for most of these egg-white situations, but sometimes, I go back to a whisk). Pancake batters, omelette and frittata prep, a whisk is a failsafe tool for ensuring a lump free sauce- and a good custard too. I often whip cream in this way- and ask Andy to help me along the way, as it can be quite a tiresome and strenuous job whipping a large bowl of cream by hand, but, if the Kitchenaid is already in use- I often have to go this route. Andy overwhips the cream every single time I ask him for help- and I don’t blame him one jot, although I do laugh at him every time. He looks at me aghast and says “I don’t know what I did!” And of course, that’s the case with whisking: one extra whisk or turn of a strong hand, and its overwhipped. Of course, all is not lost- all you do is loosen the cream with milk or thin cream, and it’s perfect. But I do laugh at the overwhipping- it happens in the blink of an eye- be careful!

Number Ten

Tea Strainer

I again, may, just once, have mentioned it, but tea, along with good wine, is one of my favourite things to drink. And I like a blend. A blend of Assam and Earl Grey leaves. I like about 5 cups a day (mugs, to be perfectly honest, large, thin lipped, Tintin and Haddock themed mugs), and the only way to get this is with the use of a tea strainer. This one is (as you can see ) wonky and well worn, and is a little heavy one the handle, but it does the job. It rests on cups and makes wonderful teas, and doesn’t let any stray leaves through either. However, as I have mentioned before, a utensil is made all the more worthwhile if it has more than one use. I use this for sifting icing sugar, coffee granules, cocoa and the like over puds and cakes- and it works perfectly. There are, of course, tea bags in our house for those who prefer them, but most people will either endure or enjoy the mix of tea we offer them.

I would love, love to hear what your favourite items in the kitchen are. Please leave a comment, or email or text or phone. I hope this little list has been useful, or at least, has made you smile. Happy cooking in these Summer days, everyone.