I visited Colombia about thirty years ago on a family holiday that also took us to Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Though I still have memories of Bogotá – I remember the statue of Simon Bolivar in Plaza de Bolivar, the flamboyant Iglesia del Carmen and being driven around the old town areas – there’s a gap when it comes to remembering the food.

Luckily, Proexport Colombia recently invited me to attend a Colombian Cooking Masterclass in the Ambassador’s beautiful residence in Chester Square.

We spent a happy hour in the small basement kitchen, where renowned Colombian chefs Juanita Umaña and Diana García talked to us about ingredients and demonstrated several dishes, inviting us to touch, smell, taste and to get involved. We ate Colombian specialities straight out of the fryer and scribbled down tips and tricks before taking our seats in the ambassador’s dining room for a multi-course feast.


The snacks we made with Juanita and Diana both featured yuca (manioc) flour. Pasteles de yuca croquettes stuffed with a spicy beef and egg mixture. Arepas (corn cakes) were double-fried – dough was rolled out, cut into discs, fried for a few minutes, then a slit carefully so that an egg could be dropped inside before being fried again. Arepas are most commonly made quite large, but Juanita and Diana made individual ones using quails eggs before creating a larger one with a hen egg.


For lunch we were served a variety of dishes, all traditional favourites in Colombia. My fellow diners were particularly taken with the Ajiaco Santafereño (chicken and potato soup) but my favourites were the mixed seafood en leche de coco (in coconut milk), the Posta Negra Cartagenera (Cartagena braised beef), the dulce de leche crème brûlée and the sandwich of Oblea wafers and dulce de leche.

Recipe: Posta Negra Cartagenera (Cartagena Braised Beef)

Serves 6


1 tail of rump or rump tip of 3lb with its fat
1.5 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon vinegar or 2 tablespoons bitter orange juice
Braising Liquid
3 tablespoons oil
4 sweet chili peppers, seeded and chopped
3 white onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tomatoes, chopped
Salt to taste


  • Place the meat in a bowl or pan and marinate with salt, pepper, garlic and vinegar or bitter orange juice. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.
  • Remove the meat from the refrigerator. Heat the oil in a pot over high heat and brown the meat on all sides, starting with the fat, until obtaining a dark caramel colour all over.
  • Add sweet chili peppers, onion, and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes and pour in enough hot water to cover a third of the meat.
  • Braise for 45 minutes over medium heat to medium doneness. If you want it done more, place in a 350° F (180 °C) oven for 40 minutes more, or depending on your preference.
  • Remove the meat from the pot and let sit for some minutes.
  • Cut it in thin slices.
  • Adjust seasoning. If the sauce formed in the pot has dried out, add some hot water and reduce a bit, for all the flavours to integrate and obtain a nice gravy.
  • Serve the meat with its gravy, fried coconut rice and salad on the side.


Kavey Eats was a guest of Proexport Colombia. The recipe for Cartagena Braised Beef, published with permission, is from Colombia Cocina de Regiones, edited and published by MNR Comunicaciones y Ediciones, an authoritative book on the recipes of Colombia, with contributions from Juanita Umaña and Diana García.


A health-focused, almost-vegetarian wellbeing blogger (not me) and a hedonistic lover of all the things that are bad for you (that’d be me, for the avoidance of any doubt) might not be considered natural bosom buddies and yet, Monica Shaw and I have become dear friends. We’ve even had drunken conversations about bosoms, come to think of it. We first met during a press trip to Cornwall a few years ago and have remained friends ever since, meeting up for gentle weekends of cooking, eating, drinking, playing board games, listening to music and generally relaxing. Everyone needs weekends (and friends) like this in their life.


Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

My name is Monica Shaw – I’m an American – and a Brit! I hail from Chicago but moved to the UK about 7 years ago, got my citizenship, and I guess now this place (the Wiltshire countryside) is home to me. I make my living doing social media and web analytics for small and large companies, and while I’m a geek at heart, I’m equally crazy about food and, for lack of a better word, wellness.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

SmarterFitter is all about how to be awesome by making sound choices. My content focuses on recipes, stories and tips for living a “smarter” and “fitter” life in all aspects: food, fitness, work, play… as a geek, I come at it from a sometimes nerdy angle. But my aim is to use my logical mind to not only make sound choices in my own life, but also to pass on reasoned, quality information to my readers.

My blog mostly focuses on vegetarian, vegan and raw food but I myself am not a vegetarian (though I was for over 10 years, and why I’m not anymore is probably the subject for another interview!).


Why did you choose to blog about vegetarian food?

Simple: I’m obsessed with vegetables, and my diet is about 90% plant based, so this is what comes naturally to me.

Does blogging about vegetarian food present any particular challenges?

Only when people realise I’m not a vegetarian and get a little huffy!

Rachel and Yotam Sweet potato and black bean chili

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

I’m very lucky to work with Rachel Demuth who runs Demuths Cookery School in Bath. Her vegetarian and vegan cuisine is a revelation. Many vegetarian cooks focus on replacing meat. But for Rachel, it’s all about the veg, and creating beautiful dishes that are inherently vegetarian, drawing on her experiences travelling all over the world. Her Mexican cookery is a particular favourite. In fact, hers is the best Mexican food I’ve ever had (particularly her tamales and her frijoles refritos negros), and that’s saying a lot – I used to live in Austin, Texas where Mexican food was a staple!

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Avocado. Avocado. Avocado. Well, I could live, but there would be an avocado-shaped hole in my heart if I had to go without.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

Mark Bittman and his book How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

Warm tofu with sesame garlic sauce, because I know you love it!


What’s been your favourite destination thus far and why did you love it so much? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

By far, Kate’s Kitchen at Camont in Gascony for a food photography workshop with two extremely talented people – Tim Clinch and Kate Hill – in one of the most beautiful places in the world. A favourite memory is the “apricot tart moment”. We spent the day photographing Kate as she went through the process of making an apricot tart. It was a stunning dish and made for beautiful photography. Then went out to the night market in Vianne, returned home drunkenly in need of sustenance, so we hacked into the tart, eating it off of napkins. I took an Instagram photo of the tart, on the napkin, half-eaten, totally unstyled, and launched into a rant about how “this” is what food photography is all about: the moment in which the food is actually enjoyed, not some super-styled setup that bears no resemblance to how the dish is actually shared and consumed. But you know what, after the rosé wore off, I realised that my rant was the manifestation of a subconscious belief that I had repressed (food styling pressure and all that). Now, I am to make my photography a reflection of what’s real, even if it isn’t always pretty.

apricot apricot_tart_moment

Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list? (nb: can make it a top 3 if prefer)


What’s the very first trip you remember taking?

Road trips to Ohio from Chicago to visit my dad’s side of the family. Amazing pies. Terrible tinned vegetables.

Where are you going next?

Camont again for Christmas!

What three things can you never travel without?

Keys, wallet, phone.

If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

Japan, of course.

Raw Raspberry Cheesecake Chargrilled Romanesco Cauilflower Salad

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Time. I work full time and some of the work I do is very brain-intensive, so often at the end of the day I feel too zapped creatively to write anything worth reading.

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

Trying to keep up with all the prolific bloggers out there who have an amazing capacity to keep cranking out content.

Hemp Protein Green Smoothie

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

I’m currently on a 7-Day Juice Feast so I’m all about the fresh-pressed juices and smoothies at the moment. My favourite thing is taking fresh juice and blending it up with avocado for a silky smooth creamy meal in a glass, which I eat with a spoon. Garnishes are also one of my big loves – on smoothies, the best thing ever is a trio of pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes and bee pollen. Ok, and maybe a sprinkle of coarse sea salt.

DIY Vitamin Water

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

32 Natural Ways to Flavour Water though I much prefer the runner up, 11 Immediately Gratifying Things You Can Do Right Now To Improve Your Health.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

My beloved (and extremely photogenic) dog Rocky recently passed away. As a tribute, I’ve created a book and calendar of Rocky photos, both of which I’m selling to raise money for Hope Rescue, a charity and rescue centre where I adopted Rocky from. The calendar costs just £6 – a small price to pay for a little Rocky in your life, and a little £££ to help those precious pooches who haven’t yet found their forever home.

Spread the love

Blog URL http://smarterfitter.com
Facebook page http://facebook.com/smarterfitter
Twitter handle http://twitter.com/monicashaw
Pinterest profile http://pinterest.com/smarterfitter
Instagram handle http://pinterest.com/smarterfitter


Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of the series, here.



For my birthday, Pete and I enjoyed a wonderful lunch at Kurobuta – Scott Hallsworth’s modern Japanese restaurant. Most of the dishes blew me away (especially the Mushrooms with Gorgonzola, Miso and Pinenuts which I simply can’t stop thinking about).

The dessert in particular inspired me to play with some of the same flavours for a showstopper of my own. Designed by Filip Gemzell (Kurobuta’s executive pastry chef) and brand new on the menu the week of our visit, the spiced kombu compressed pineapple, coconut & lemongrass sorbet, caramel, lemon sponge, crumble was a beautifully balanced dish with lots of flavours and textures to enjoy. Gemzell kindly provided me with some extra information about the pineapple, which he compresses (under vacuum) with kombu, green chilli, red pepper, lemongrass, Szechuan pepper, vanilla, salt and sugar. He left me in the dark about his coconut and lemongrass sorbet but the light, refreshing combination was one I just couldn’t forget.

I decided against compressing the pineapple, and drastically reduced the flavouring ingredients to just one – powdered red chilli. But what to do with the pineapple if I was not going to compress it?

This time, inspiration came from Pinterest where I first found beautiful images of dried pineapple flowers, but no instructions, prompting a search that lead me to several blog recipes, most citing Martha Stewart for the original idea.

Gemzell calls his frozen element a sorbet, presumably because coconut is a fruit and there’s no dairy in the recipe. But as the rich, creamy coconut milk gives a texture more like ice cream than my mental image of a sorbet, I’m calling mine an ice cream. I tried several different recipes for the ice cream, of which I’m sharing two below.

The first recipe is suitable for vegans and uses corn flour to thicken coconut milk to make a custard-like base. You can either infuse fresh lemongrass during the heating process or add ground dried lemongrass or lemongrass extract.

The second recipe is an adaptation of my usual quick and easy no churn ice cream but the use of condensed milk means it’s not suitable for vegans.

Earlier this year, I was sent some samples of a new product by Rhythm Health – fresh coconut milk from the Philippines, no additives, first-press only and suitable for gluten-free, dairy free, vegetarian and vegan diets. I admit I was dubious about how much difference I’d notice but both Pete and I were blown away at the how good the flavour was was when we used the first pouch in an Indian curry and a second in a Thai Massaman. The only downside is that, unlike the canned coconut milk I bought previously, this fresh product has a fairly short shelf life (and I was told that it’s not suitable for freezing). Luckily, I live a couple of minutes walk from a health food shop that now stocks this product, which is where I purchased the pouches I used for this recipe.

Rhythm Health full fat coconut milk is really really thick, especially when at fridge temperature. If you want to try this recipe with canned coconut milk firstly, do make sure you buy the regular rather than reduced fat type. Then I suggest you leave the can to sit in a cupboard for several weeks so that the contents separate, as canned coconut milk is wont to do. Open the can carefully and drain away the thin liquid – use it in a curry or smoothie – retaining only the thickest milk for this recipe.

I originally intended to plate with some gently toasted and crumbled coconut macaroon biscuits and a little fresh pineapple and chilli compote, but time ran away from me. Certainly I think those with better styling skills and patience could create a far prettier presentation than I achieved here!

Of course, the dried pineapple flowers can be used to decorate all kinds of desserts; I’ve seen them used to great effect piled into an edible bouquet atop a large cake.


How to Make Dried Chilli Pineapple Flowers

1 fresh, ripe pineapple
1-2 teaspoons red chilli powder

Note: Of course, you can omit the chilli if you prefer.


  • Top and tail your pineapple, then stand it upright and cut away the rest of the peel, taking care not to cut away too much of the fruit itself.
  • Remove the ‘eyes’; some people prefer to cut them out individually but we find it easier to cut away v-shaped slivers in spiralling lines around the fruit.

Pineapple-Flower-Lemongrass-Coconut-Ice-Cream-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-102549 Pineapple-Flower-Lemongrass-Coconut-Ice-Cream-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-102733

  • Slice the pineapple thinly, about 2-3 mm in thickness is ideal. (Note: if your pineapple isn’t fully ripe, it will be difficult to cut through the core, so do choose a properly ripe one for this recipe)
  • Lay pineapple slices onto a baking tray lined with a silicone baking mat or a sheet of baking parchment. Sprinkle a little chilli powder over each slice – I concentrated mine in the centre.
  • Bake in a low oven (100C / 215 F) for approximately an hour, turning over after half an hour. Check regularly, as the exact time will depend on the juiciness of your fruit and the exact thickness of the slices; yours may be dried more quickly, or need significantly longer than an hour.

Pineapple-Flower-Lemongrass-Coconut-Ice-Cream-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-112338 Pineapple-Flower-Lemongrass-Coconut-Ice-Cream-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-154012

  • When the slices are fairly dried out (but not so dry that they are brittle), transfer them gently into a muffin tray to create a pleasing cupped shape, turn off the oven and leave the muffin tray in the closed oven as it cools.
  • Once dried, the flowers can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week, but the texture will gradually change from crisp to chewy, the longer they are kept.

Dairy-Free Lemongrass & Coconut Ice Cream Recipe (Vegan)

200 ml extra thick full fat coconut milk
50 grams sugar
1 tablespoon corn flour
small pinch sea salt
2-3 stalks of slightly crushed fresh lemongrass to infuse or 2 teaspoons ground dried lemongrass or 1 teaspoon lemongrass extract

Note: Infusing with fresh lemongrass imparts a more subtle lemongrass flavour. Adding dried or extract as an ingredient gives more of a kick.


  • In a small bowl, very gently heat 1-2 tablespoons of coconut milk in a microwave for 10-20 seconds, then mix in the cornflour to make a smooth paste. Set aside.
  • In a pan, heat the remainder of the coconut milk with the sugar on a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cornflour and coconut milk paste to the pan, along with the lemongrass.
  • Continue to cook on a gentle heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture thickens.
  • Remove from the heat. If using fresh lemongrass, remove now, squeezing out any milk from the stalks.
  • Leave the mixture to cool, then transfer into a storage container and refridgerate until cold.
  • Churn, according to the instructions on your ice cream machine. Transfer into a suitable container and freeze until needed.

No Churn Lemongrass & Coconut Ice Cream Recipe

200 ml extra thick full fat coconut milk
120 ml / 150 grams condensed milk
small pinch sea salt
2 teaspoons ground dried lemongrass or 1 teaspoon lemongrass extract


  • Using an stand mixer or electric whisk, whisk the coconut milk briefly to loosen and aerate, then add the condensed milk, salt and lemongrass, and whisk again to combine thoroughly.
  • Transfer into a suitable container and freeze until solid.


Although it’s not quite as grand as I’d originally planned, I made this for the Blogger Scream For Ice Cream Showstoppers challenge. A few tweaks to the presentation, and I reckon it could certainly make an impressive dessert!

IceCreamChallenge mini

Kavey Eats received samples of Rhythm Health coconut milk earlier in the year. I have since purchased the product again from local stores.


I shared my pick of books already. Here’s the rest of my Christmas Gift Guide 2014.

Bordallo Pinheiro Melon Bowls

These gorgeously shaped and coloured Melon bowls, designed by Portuguese artist, Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro, are available in two sizes, 15 cm and 25 cm (£18.50 / £36.50). Bordallo’s pumpkin and orange designs are also lovely, but the melon ones are my favourite. Buy from Divertimenti.


Sous Chef Gift Sets

SC World Pepper SC Sakura Sake Set
SC Chinese Mooncake SC Fig Mostarda

It’s too hard to narrow down to just one; Sous Chef offer so many tempting gift sets which are just ideal for food and drink lovers this Christmas. My picks are the World Pepper Selection (£19.50), the Deluxe Sakura Sake Set (£39.50), the Chinese Mooncake Recipe Kit (£15) [why hasn’t anyone bought me this????] and a jar of fig mostarda (£8.50).

And don’t forget this Korean yuzu tea (£3.50), from which I made the most incredible (and easy) yuzu ice cream.


Lakeland Thermospatula


I was ridiculously excited when I saw this at Lakeland’s preview show this summer. The Thermospatula is a silicone spatula and digital thermometer combined; no more awkwardness stirring the jam without dislodging the metal jam thermometer clipped insecurely to the side of the pan. The thermometer can be slipped out of the spatula and used on its own too – doubly handy. It’s really such a simple idea and one that’s utterly brilliant! I use mine to make jams and chutneys but it will also be very useful for those of you who temper chocolate at home. Buy Lakeland’s Thermospatula (£14.99), here.


Porto Sippers

sippers1 sippers2

At one of the feast dinners that are a highlight of the Oxford Food Symposium I sat next to a gentleman who delighted in showing us his nifty little sipper glass, designed to let you drink from the bottom of the glass where the fuller flavours are unchanged by the oxidisation on the surface. I don’t know how much of a difference this makes, but it was were certainly a talking point and I imagine the tulip shape collects the aromas affectively too. Drinkstuff sell a Decanter and Sippers set (currently £19.99) or a pair of sippers (currently £7.50).


Froothie Optimum 9400 Blender

Courgette-BlueCheese-Soup-KaveyEats--(c)-KFavelle-7057 Courgette-BlueCheese-Soup-KaveyEats--(c)-KFavelle-7069

I’ve fallen hard for my fabulous new power blender and it’s been getting a lot of use during the last few months. We’ve made delicious soups, the smoothest custard bases for ice cream and quick fresh-fruit sorbets and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it can do. The Vitamix brand is better known in the UK, but this Australian power blender has a more powerful motor (which gives it a higher top RPM), a super sharp 6 blade assembly, a single jug for wet and dry, runs more quietly and is just a little over half the price of the Vitamix Pro 500. I hope it goes without saying that I would never recommend a product I didn’t wholeheartedly believe in; freebies don’t change that. I genuinely love my Optimum 9400 and can’t imagine making soups, custards or smoothies without it! As part of the ambassador campaign, I am able to offer readers an additional 2 years warranty free of charge on any Optimum appliance purchased via this (affiliate) link, and using the coupon code “Special Ambassador Offer” on checkout.


Straw Salt and Pepper Shakers

straw SP straw3 SP

I like the elegant simplicity of these straw-shaped salt and pepper shakers, £24 from Hidden Art. They can be propped up in a glass, laid flat alongside the cutlery and easily stored away in a drawer.


Star Wars Lookalites


These officially licensed “Stumpy Stormtrooper” and “Dumpy Darth Vader” table lamps are £19.99 each from Firebox. I know quite a few adults who’d love these as much as the kids might!



carluccios1 carluccios2 carluccios3
carluccios4 carluccios5 carluccios6

Carluccio’s always tempt me with their sweet Christmas treats. This year, my favourites are the Meringhe di Gianduja (£9.95), Fichi al Rhum (£6.95), Ricciarelli almond cakes (£9.95), Lunettes d’Arancia (£6.95), Pistachio torrone (£6.95) and sponge cakes in Limoncello syrup (£6.95).


Tetris Cookie Cutters


Also from Firebox are these Tetris cookie cutters. I first came across the idea on an American custom cookie maker website but they were too expensive, so I was happy to spot that this set is just £6.99.


Nutural World Nut Butters


I met Mordechai Chachamu earlier this year and have been hugely impressed by his range of all-natural nut butters, which he sells under his brand Nutural World. The nuts and seeds are lightly toasted to bring out their flavours before being processed and bottled – no additives at all. Gorgeous flavours. Buy online at Nutural World.




The perfect word game for any age group, Bananagrams (£10.59 from Amazon) comes in a handy pouch for travelling.


Nesting Babushkups


These three matryoshka-decorated glass cups nest, like a Russian doll set. £12.50 from CubicUK.


Adagio Teas Samurai Sampler Set


Check out my recent post on Adagio’s Sampler Sets, a lovely way to try a range of teas and the perfect gift for tea lovers. I recommend the Samurai Sampler Set at £9.


Let’s Cook Okonomiyaki


Japan Centre has lots of food kits for anyone with an interest in Japanese food. This okonomiyaki kit is £16 and includes okonomiyaki flour, powdered seaweed, kewpie mayonnaise, pancake sauce, tempura flakes, pickled ginger and a recipe.


Fabulous Pong Cheese


I’ve been sharing Pong Cheese with readers for a while now. How can anyone resist the allure of top quality cheese available by online order? Their Pong Christmas Explorer Box is £29.95, and of course you can browse their other collections or choose cheeses individually. Enter PONGKAVEY10 into the Discount Code box during checkout for 10% off your order (excluding delivery); valid till December 31st 2014.


T-Rex Meat Cuts


I can’t find this fabulous art print by Victor Calahan for sale via a UK website, but here it is for US $19 from Society6 in California, and the website is currently offering (at time of writing) free international shipping!


Master of Malt

drinks-by-the-dram-christmas-crackers GinMonkey_AHistoryOfGin_TastingSet

I love Master Of Malt and have bought a fair few gifts for Pete over the years, as have family and friends. Their Drinks by the Dram Christmas Crackers are available from their own site or from Amazon. Despite the name, Master of Malt are not just about whisky either – check out this History of Gin Tasting Set (£18.95) and this Premium Rum Tasting Set (£22.95).


Hotel Chocolat Christmas Range

Christmas Collection-2 Mini Stocking Truffle Xmas Tree
HC Butterscotch puddles HC Mulled Sultanas HC-mini-hazelnut-buche

I’ve already shared some of my favourites from this year’s Hotel Chocolat Christmas range, in my annual competition (closed) in which I gave away The Christmas Collection (£35), The Christmas Truffle Tree (£26) and the Dinky Christmas Stocking (£10). I can also recommend the mulled wine sultanas in chocolate (£8), the butterscotch puddles (£5.50) and the mini hazelnut yule logs (£3).


Lakeland Flare Pans

Flare Pan Flare Pot

I was drawn to these as soon as I saw them – on an aesthetic level alone they are absolutely beautiful; however, this new range have been developed for much more than their sleek sci-fi looks. The unusual flared ridges adorning the sides of the pans are designed specifically for use on a gas hob; they distribute the heat evenly across the base and up the sides which heats up the contents of the pan more quickly. Designed by Oxford Professor Dr. Thomas Povey whose expertise is thermodynamics applied to advanced jet engine design, the pans are formed from cast aluminium with stainless steel handles. They can be used on electric, ceramic and halogen hobs too, but you won’t get the faster cooking that they provide on gas. I love my Flare 20 cm saucepan (£64.99) but I’ve yet to do side-by-side comparisons with a regular pan to put this “fin-x” technology to the test. Regardless, it’s a gorgeous thing.


Moby Picks


Yes, I admit, I picked these purely for the punny name! Moby Picks, £12.90 from CubicUK.


Niederegger Marzipan

Niederegger fruits niederegger lovers box

This is another gift I hope to see under my tree every single year. Niederegger is the king of marzipan and whether you pick up this box of pretty marzipan fruits (£6.99 from Lakeland, or from Amazon) or a collection of different flavoured marzipans (500 grams £19.99 from Lakeland, 400 grams £18.99 from Amazon)


Melamine Children’s Plates

Blue_Monster_Plate Green_Robot_Plate Princess_Blue_Plate
Yellow_Robot_Plate Princess_Green_Plate Green_Monster_Plate

How cute are these melamine plates by French Bull, available for £5 each from Designed in Colour?


Snow Globe Salt and Pepper Shakers

gamagosnowglobeSP cactus shakers

These white and black bear snow globe salt and pepper shakers look so much fun! £10.99 from Amazon or £9.99 from LazyboneUK. Or how about hot and cold climate pine tree and cactus shakers, £14.99 from CubicUK?


Doki Ramen Bowls

doki1 doki2
doki3 doki4

I love Doki’s range of Japanese tableware. Choose from their great selection of ramen bowls and other products.


Drinks List

leffe nectar kingsginger appleicewine harveys-pedro-ximenez-30-year-old-sherry
brownbrothersorangemuscat morrisonssigPX asdatasgall redemption-bigchief

Last but not least, here’s a selection of delicious drinks to warm you up this Christmas.

As if that weren’t enough, many of the gifts I suggested last year are still available, including the mammoth selection of tea towels!
Likewise, you may find inspiration in 2012’s gift guide too.
The same goes for my guide to tasty alcoholic tipples for the sweet-toothed.

My gift guide does not include any sponsored suggestions – I list only items that appeal to me personally. I came across some items at Christmas preview events and have also been provided review samples to test a few. The rest I found while browsing online stores. Links to Amazon, Froothie, Lakeland and Master of Malt are affiliate links. Please see affiliate box in sidebar.


Regular readers will know that I’m married to a beer enthusiast. Pete loves to drink beer, to talk about beer and to brew beer. He even grows his own hops! Although supermarkets are getting a little better at stocking a wider range of interesting beers, Pete often buys his beer online, from the growing number of beer specialists that offer a far better choice.

We recently came across Beer52, an online beer retailer founded last year by James Brown after his epic motorcycle craft beer road trip round Europe. His discovery that there were more than 12,000 microbreweries in the world inspired him to create a business in which his team handpick eight different beers to share with subscribers each month; the selection is delivered to your door for £24 a box. Beer52 are often able to source exclusive, small batch beers from small and experimental breweries around the world – not the kind of beers a supermarket is ever likely to stock.

Pete put a recent box to the taste test. Whilst he didn’t love all eight beers in the selection, what he did like was the opportunity to try beers he’d have been unlikely to come across otherwise.

Also in the box is a copy of Beer52’s in-house magazine, Ferment, sharing more information about the beers they feature. Our boxes also had a couple of extra gifts including an edition of Craft Beer Rising magazine, some crisps, a little bar of chocolate and some product leaflets.

beer52-2 beer52-3


Barcelona Beer Company, 5%
A father golden, big billowing white head. Sweet, slightly biscuit aroma, some background hops. Flavour is – surprisingly – deeply bitter which overwhelms the residual sweetness.

Cerveza Mica, 4.7%
One of the most explosive gushers I’ve seen for a while! Golden, flat white head. Honey nose, with a slight mustiness. Flavour is a little bland, slightly sweet, boring.

Charles Wells DNA, 4.5%
Copper, little head, “new world IPA”. Nose is mostly mallet, very little floral hops. Flavour is just as unremarkable – slightly fudge sweet, insipid.

Freigeist Bierkulture Hoppeditz, 7.5%
A dark reddish brown coloured beer, thin white fine bubbled head. Aroma is treacle sweet, flavour is similar, sweet, slightly bitter burnt sugar, resinous hops and dark fruit. Very nice, but not as big on the hop front as I was expecting. Over time, actually it is pretty damn hoppy, nice lingering bitterness!

Kaapse Brouwers Karel American Bitter, 4.9%
BIG white fluffy head that takes a long time to go away, deep golden colour. Aroma has nice floral hops, mineral barley. Over fizzy in the mouth, honey with quite a harsh bitterness at the back of the mouth. Average at best.

Media Biere Blanche, 5%
Golden, big but fleeting white open head. Wheat aroma, grassy with a hint of metallic. Foamy in the mouth, softly sweet and more wheat grain. Not bad, unremarkable.

Microbrasserie de la Principaute Curtius, 7%
Belgian triple, golden with a thin white head. Typical belgian yeast aroma, spic and slightly fruity. Champagne foam texture, with a slightly sour background, metallic. Tasty triple, but maybe a touch turned?

Oppigards Indian Tribute, 6.6%
Copper, mid sized fine head. Floral hop aroma, sweet and slightly toffee flavour, with fruity flavours and a nice building resinous hop kick at the end. Yum.

beer52-5 beer52-9 beer52-8


Beer52 have offered us two cases of beer to giveaway and we’ve set up an unusual joint competition for you between Kavey Eats and Pete Drinks. Each winner will receive a box of eight beers selected by Beer52. The prize includes free delivery to UK Mainland addresses.

Running the competition across both blogs gives you 6 chances to enter, all of which go into one big list from which two winners will be drawn randomly.


You can enter the competition in 3 ways via Kavey Eats and another 3 ways via Pete Drinks – the more ways you enter, the higher your chances of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, telling me about your favourite bottled beer.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey, @PeteDrinks and @Beer52HQ on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win a box of craft beers from @Beer52HQ and Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/ke-beer52 #KaveyEatsBeer52
(Do not add the @Kavey twitter handle into the tweet; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag. And you don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

Entry 3 – Instagram
Follow @KaveyF, @PeteDrinks and @Beer52HQ on Instagram. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter!
Share an image of a bottle of your favourite beer via your Instagram feed. In the caption include the name of the beer, instagram usernames @KaveyF, @PeteDrinks and @Beer52HQ, and the hashtag #KaveyEatsBeer52

Entries 4-6 – PeteDrinks.com

Visit PeteDrinks.com for instructions.


  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Wednesday 24th December 2014.
  • Kavey Eats and Pete Drinks reserve the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page and the related page on PeteDrinks.com.
  • The two winner will be selected from all valid entries (across both blogs, both twitter hashtags and both instagram hashtags) using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats and Pete Drinks accept no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • Both prizes are one box of 8 craft beers selected by Beer52 and and include delivery within the UK Mainland.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Beer52.
  • Only one Kavey Eats blog entry per person. Only one Twitter #KaveyEatsBeer52 per person. Only one Instagram #KaveyEatsBeer52 per person. Only one Pete Drinks blog entry per person. Only one Twitter #PeteDrinksBeer52 per person. Only one Instagram #PeteDrinksBeer52 per person. You may enter all six ways but you do not have to do so for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey, @PeteDrinks and @Beer52HQ at the time of notification. For Instagram entries, winners must be following @KaveyF, @PeteDrinks and @Beer52HQ at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Instagram so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 14 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.


As well as the competition, Beer52 have also set up a special discount code for our readers. Use special code KAVEYPETE10 to take advantage of a £10 reduction on any subscription, including the gift subscription. Use KAVEYPETE30 for £30 off the £48.99 gift box (which adds a book and wooden bottle opener to the usual selection of 8 beers).

Kavey Eats and Pete Drinks received product samples from Beer52.


Sometimes I find myself pondering odd little questions… such as “Can peoples’ names have some weird kind of influence over their hobbies?” That particular question popped into mind when I noticed how many of the baking blogs I follow are run by people called Kate. “Do Kates have a predisposition to bake and blog?”

Regardless of the answer, I’m happy to present my next Meet The Blogger interview with Kate from What Kate Baked.

BannerHello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

I have the sweetest tooth of anyone I know. And I love baking. So I thought I’d put together What Kate Baked documenting my trials (and often tribulations) in the kitchen as I strive to satisfy my sweet tooth. The recipes on the blog are about 99% sweet, the odd savoury bake makes an appearance once in a while

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

My sister helped me come up with the name- a twist on What Katie Did, a favourite book of mine during my childhood- I think she hopes she’ll get 10% of all cakes I bake as royalties!


Why did you choose to blog about baking and does blogging about baking present any particular challenges?

The only time of year when I struggle is January when my husband and I try to eat healthily after all the indulgence over Christmas – this is never conducive to keeping a baking blog up to date! Fortunately, I’ve many appreciative hungry colleagues at work who will always, always polish off any sweet treat in ten minutes flat!

What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

I remember making peppermint creams and coconut ice with my Nana and Grandpa as a child and Mum used to always make the most inventive birthday cakes for us- one year I had a doll’s teaparty cake while my brother had a pirates treasure chest cake. I definitely get my sweet tooth from my Mum’s side of the family…

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

I think the internet – be it pinterest, other blogs, established foodie websites- is an absolutely treasure trove of inspiration and ideas. Although I have a rather large collection of baking books, I can spend hours whiling away my time on exciting new recipes on the net.

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

I once gave food poisoning to an ex-boyfriend after a poorly made lemon meringue pie…. This was many years ago and suffice to say the relationship was very short lived!

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

From a baking point of view I love baking with almonds and zesty flavours

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

Ohhh, this is a tough one! Delia is my go-to for classic recipes, Nigella for utter indulgence and decadence, Nigel Slater for prose and narrative and Dan Lepard for the science behind baking!

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

I make a mean chicken and leek pie! How does that sound?

[It sounds wonderful to me! Kavey]

What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?

My spatula – well, I have five all together, all red.

Do you have a current favourite restaurant or top 3?

We love Dishoom at the moment- a new one has opened in Granary Square in King’s Cross. Kateh, a Persian restaurant, is round the corner in Little Venice, London and the best roast in all of town can be found in our local, The Truscott Arms

What’s been your favourite destination thus far and why did you love it so much? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

Foodie wise probably our month travelling around Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam a few years back. We spend a day at a cookery school run by the ex-Head Chef for the King in Vietnam. He was incredibly patient and kind. Following an insightful visit to the local market we spent the day making all sorts of delicious Vietnamese cuisine

Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list? (You can make it a top 3 if you prefer.)

French Laundry, California; Noma, Copenhagen and a tour around the Champagne region in France (greedy, moi?!)

Elderflower Syllabub

Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

I think the photos are better since we bought a great camera a few months into starting the blog. I’ve hopefully got a little better at presentation/styling but I know there is a lot of work to do in that department! My content has stayed pretty much the same, although the frequency of posting is less.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Time! I initially started doing two posts a week for the first year or two…I now blog every fortnight, much more achievable and I figured quality over quantity…

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

Its a great hobby- absolute escapism from the day job, a chance to meet lots of interesting people and join various foodie events/activities. Also the blogging community is really friendly and welcoming – I’ve made lots of virtual friends since starting who share a similar interest and enjoyment. Finally, I love it when I get a tweet, email or message from someone saying they’ve tried a recipe of mine…and its been successful!

Christmas Wreath Cake

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

Lots of lovely warming, comforting slow-cooked meals at this time of year plus LOTS of Christmas baking. Its such a great time of year to spend time in the kitchen.

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

In the summer months – elderflower syllabub and in the winter either mulled wine cupcakes or Christmas Wreath Cake.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

I was really chuffed with how well this Christmas Cracker Cake turned out last Christmas.

Christmas Cracker

Spread the love

Blog URL www.whatkatebaked.com
Twitter handle https://twitter.com/whatkatebaked

Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of the series, here.


I’ve been a little slow in assembling my Christmas Gift Guide this year, so I’ll share it in instalments. Here’s the first; for lovers of books.

Noodle! by MiMi Aye


I’ll preface this recommendation with the statement that the author, MiMi Aye, is a friend of mine so, of course, I wish her book to do well. Especially as it may result in a second book deal that allows her to share all her fabulous Burmese recipes, which would be a real treat for all of us. But I’m recommending her book because it’s a corker – it’s absolutely full of very delicious noodle recipes, all of them clearly written and easy to follow. Everyone who’s cooked from it agrees, including BigSpud who’s worked his way through 30 of them already!

I reviewed the book for my regular Worth Its Salt column in Good Things magazine and asked MiMi for a few recommendations. To impress guests she suggested Tonkotsu Ramen (“looks amazing and tastes wonderful”); she recommended Spicy Lemongrass Beef Noodles for those feeling poorly; for a quick supper Ham, Pea and Pea Shoot Noodles is ready in minutes; for comfort food she chose Coconut Chicken Noodles (“a hug in a bowl!”); and if you’re stuck in the house she noted that her Persian Noodle Soup can be made with store cupboard ingredients.

The book should appeal to both novice and advanced cooks alike. For the former, Teriyaki Salmon Noodles and Pork Patties with Noodles & Herbs are both simple and straightforward. For those ready to take on more, recipes like Cheung Fun and Vegetable Soup with Hand-pulled Noodles involve making noodles from scratch.

You can buy a personalised, signed copy of Noodle! directly from MiMi here or purchase from Amazon, here.


Everyday Harumi by Harumi Kurihara


This book was published back in 2009 but I didn’t get a copy until last year (though it was on my Christmas wishlist back in 2012!) Harumi Kurihara is one of Japan’s foremost culinary authors and has created a hugely successful business in Japan selling not only cookery books but also magazines, TV shows, a line of kitchenware and she even has a chain of shops, restaurants and cafés.

Everyday Harumi is the third of Kurihara’s books to be published in English but it’s the first book she has researched and written in England; she wanted to understand the British way of shopping, eating and cooking to ensure that her recipes were realistic and accessible for non-Japanese cooks.

Harumi starts by introducing the store cupboard essentials, the ingredients she feels are at the heart of Japanese home cooking. Most of them appears in multiple recipes; indeed one of the things I love about the book is realising how much variety can be achieved by combining the essential ingredients in different ways. Next are instructions to cook rice, make dashi stock and some recipes for sauces and pastes referenced later in the book. And then come the recipes… Steak in a Miso Marinade, Tsukune with Teriyaki Sauce, Scallops with Nori Seaweed, Udon Noodles with a Minced Meat Miso Sauce, Tofu Salad with a Sesame Dressing, Egg Drop Soup, Lightly Cooked Spinach with Soy Sauce, Japanese Coleslaw Salad and Aubergine in Spicy Sauce.

One of the big pluses of the book for me is that most of the dishes are really well suited to tasty mid-week evening meals, when speed and simplicity are a priority.

You can buy Everyday Harumi from Amazon, here


Plenty & Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

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I’m late to the party when it comes to Ottolenghi. Of course, I’ve been aware of his cooking for some time, and Plenty has been on my wishlist since it was first published. Recently, I got my hands on both Plenty and follow-up title Plenty More and can’t wait to start cooking from both. I’ve been poring through both books in the last few weeks and bookmarking a frankly ridiculous number of recipes to try as soon as I’ve some free time in the kitchen.

I’ll be sharing a proper review in the months to come, but in the meantime, here are Amazon links to buy Plenty and Plenty More.


Do-Head Christmas by James Ramsden


We’re having a lazy Christmas this year, just us and one of Pete’s sisters and we’ve agreed to enjoy a simple but tasty roast dinner, lots of shop-bought snacks, and sitting around under blankets on the sofa watching telly or reading. So I might save James’ Do-Ahead Christmas for next year, when I need clever ways to prepare some of the Christmas feasting in advance.

Having attended James’ popular supperclub, I know he’s had plenty of practice working out all the best tricks when catering to a large group in a domestic setting.

Buy Do-Ahead Christmas from Amazon, here.


Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji


This book has been on my personal wishlist for a few years, since the publication of the 25th anniversary edition in 2012. I finally bought it this year and am so pleased I did; it’s a fabulous reference book – the definitive reference book, I’d say. If you have an interest in traditional Japanese cooking, this book should be on your bookshelf. Full review to come, next year.

Buy Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art from Amazon, here


Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties by Kevin Gascoyne


One that’s currently on my own wishlist (hint, hint!) is the recently published second edition of this book about the history and varieties of tea.

It’s available on Amazon, here.


Slow Cooked by Miss South


Another book by a friend and another genuine recommendation. We love our slow cooker but I’m the first to acknowledge that we aren’t very adventurous when it comes to what we cook in it. Beyond curries, stews, jacket potatoes and overnight chicken stock, we need a bit of inspiration to make better use of it. In this book, Miss South, author of successful blog North South Food, shares over 200 slow cooker recipes for all kinds of dishes.

Read my review, here. Buy the book on Amazon, here.


You can also find some great gift ideas in my previous guides, though of course, some items may no longer be available:

The Amazon links above are affiliate links. This means that I receive a tiny commission for purchases via the links.

Dec 062014

The world of tea is a vast one. For those happy with basic black tea in teabags (or loose) it’s pretty straightforward; every supermarket in the country stocks black tea teabags and loose leaf English Breakfast, Assam and Darjeeling are just as easy to find; Earl Grey (black tea with the addition of essential oil extracted from bergamot orange) is also universally available.

But what if you discover that oolong or green tea are more to your taste? Perhaps you hear about yellow and white teas, aged pu-erh (dark fermented tea made in China’s Yunnan province), genmaicha (Japanese green tea with roasted rice)? You’ve read that matcha and sencha are both green teas but aren’t sure how they differ? How do you learn more about them, and more importantly, how can you sample a wide range to help you narrow down which styles of tea you personally enjoy the most?

Finding out about the different teas is not too complicated. It’s a topic that wikipedia is very useful on – just search for wiki oolong, wiki matcha, wiki sencha… you get the idea. And obviously, many online tea retailers also have guides to the teas on their websites. There are specialist blogs aplenty and if you become really keen, you can buy a specialist book or two. I’ve been eyeing up this one, Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties by Kevin Gascoyne, published earlier this year.

Regular readers know I have been exploring the world of teas for some years, and I have a particular fondness for oolongs and green teas. You can look back through my many tea posts, or take a look at my Christmas tea gift guide from 2012. In that post, I mentioned Adagio Teas, a US company that started to also sell in Europe a few years ago, amongst others.

Adagio Teas offer an extensive selection, covering the range of tea styles.

They’re a great option for those looking to expand their tea repertoire – not only can you pick and choose your own selection, they also provide 9 Tea Samplers, each box containing small packets of four different teas.

Emperor Sampler Set

The Samplers include Silk Road (Chinese black teas), Raja (Indian and Sri Lankan black teas), Chai (teas blended with a variety of spices and herbs), Tropical (teas blended with fruit), Formosa (Taiwanese green and dark oolongs), Samurai (Japanese green teas), Emperor (top quality green teas) and two more that cover herbal infusions, Garden and Rooibos.

I put three of the Samplers to the test along with two individual teas chosen from the full range.


Emperor Sampler Set

The Emperor Sampler Set is £13. Note that the two of four teas currently listed differ from those in my set, delivered a few months ago.

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From left to right: Silver Sprout, Dragonwell, Gyokuro, Jasmine Yin Hao, The gyokuro brews to an

Silver Sprout brews to a pretty amber and has a rich sweet aroma that reminds me of rice pudding. The taste is mild, smoky and more like an oolong than a typical green tea.

Dragonwell brews to a greeny yellow and smells like a typical green tea – it has rich intense grass, hay notes. On the palate, the grassy taste comes through, but so too does a mild dairy umami that wasn’t obvious to the nose. It’s rich but refreshingly vegetal at the same time.

Gyokuro brews bright yellow and has an uncomplicated green vegetal aroma. The flavours are gentle, a soft grassiness with a mere hint of umami savouriness.

Jasmine Yin Hao is a jasmine-infused silver tip tea – “tip” in this context refers to tiny unfurled buds, given only the lightest of processing. It brews orangey yellow and the only aroma I can detect is a strong floral scent of jasmine. On the palate too, jasmine dominates. This is a lovely floral tea, but be aware that the green tea beneath doesn’t come through very clearly.


Samurai Sampler Set

The Samurai Sampler Set is £9.

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From left to right: Genmaicha, Kukicha, Sencha Overture, Hojicha

Genmaicha is a popular tea in Japan; a combination of green tea and toasted rice. This one brews to a greeny yellow and has a fabulous aroma of roasted rice, like popcorn and marshmallows. It tastes as you’d expect, the rich roasted rice flavours and underneath, the clean vegetal notes of green tea. It’s rich, savoury and very comforting.

Kukicha is a blend of tea leaves and tea leaf stems. It brews to a similar greeny yellow as the genmaicha but could not be more different. The smell is lemon citrus and freshly cut grass. The citrus is on the nose only, the taste is a very light green tea. The umami savouriness is very muted, there’s no bitterness at all, this is a much lighter green than most.

Sencha Overture is a delicious green tea, and a good introduction to the style; sencha is harvested in spring and early summer and steamed rather than sun dried, which results in a clean but rich vegetal flavour. This one brews pale yellow. On the nose, it delivers a really intense sweetness, like caramelised milk and a mild vegetal scent. On the palate the green vegetable taste comes through clearly.

Sencha is produced in spring and early summer. After that, the full summer harvest creates bancha. Roasting these bancha tea leaves creates Hojicha. Adagio’s hojicha brews a dark red brown. The smell is smoky and woody. On the palate it’s rich, smoky and with hints of tobacco and wood. Very much like a well-flavoured black tea, I find.


Formosa Sampler Set + Hsinchu Oriental Beauty + Formosa Ali Shan

The Formosa Sampler Set is £9. A 12 gram box of Hsinchu Oriental Beauty is £9. A 34 gram box of Formosa Ali Shan is £9.

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I find the Formosa oolong (sampler set) disappointing. It’s smoky, one-dimensional black tea, with no richness or complexity of flavour. I don’t get any hint of the raisins or ripe fruits in Adagio’s description.

The Formosa Bai Hao (sampler set) brews to a paler amber than the oolong. It has a slightly more interesting aroma, milky with a little smoke. On the palate it’s a little lighter and sweeter in flavour, with a hint of milky umami. But it’s still not very complex, rich or interesting.

The Hsinchu Oriental Beauty is a world apart from the two above. It’s a highly oxidised premium grade bai hao from Taiwan’s Hsinchu county it is made up of white, green, yellow, red and brown leaves. The colour when brewed is a pale greeny brown and the aroma is amazing, a burst of floral, fruitiness. The taste is even more phenomenal than the smell with intense fruits, flowers and honeyed sweetness. I don’t have the vocabulary to do justice to the roundness of flavours, it seems to satisfy more of my tastebuds than the other teas.

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Jade oolong (sampler set) brews yellowy green and has a grassy aroma and smells like sweet milk. The taste – vegetal grassiness and the hint of umami savouriness – is a more typical of a green tea than an oolong; it’s the lighter side of the oolong style.

Pouchong (sampler set) is another lightly oxidised oolong that brews to a yellow green. The smell is intense, much sweeter, like semolina halwa with a hint of vanilla. The taste is less complex than the smell lead me to expect, in fact it’s a disappointly mild and light.

Like the pouchong, the Formosa ali shan has an intense sweet flavour, the same semolina and vanilla – I even took both cups into different rooms to check the scent of one wasn’t influencing the other! This time, the promise of the aromas comes through on the palate. It’s rich, fruity, a little sweet and with the merest hint of green grass, and it fills the palate, much like the Hsinchu bai hao.


To recap, the samplers provide a great way to try lots of teas without breaking the bank. Of the ones I tried, the Samurai was my clear favourite. Or, of course, buy any of the teas individually.

Adagio are currently running a pre-Christmas offer of free standard UK delivery on orders over £20 (usually it’s a £30 minimum spend to qualify for free shipping). This offer is available on their website till December 14th!

Kavey Eats received product samples from Adagio Teas.


Do you like sightseeing excursions by boat? Yep, I do.

Do you like bird watching? Yep, I do.

Do you fancy eating raw scallops and sea urchins only seconds after they’re pulled out of the sea? OH MY GOD YES, WHERE DO I SIGN UP?

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Seatours run what they call Viking Sushi excursions out of Stykkisholmur harbour in North West Iceland throughout the summer months. The standard and short versions are much the same; a difference of an extra half an hour out on the water; both take you out to the same local islands to view birdlife and unusual geological formations (with fascinating local mythology to explain them) before treating you to the “sushi” experience.

Our itinerary meant we could only make the shorter one, which turned out to be perfect. Any longer, and the cold winds out on the sea might have become more of an endurance test; as it was the sights followed by the sushi kept our minds off the chill factor.

Although the sun was shining, the air was cold. As we gathered speed, a scurry for gloves and scarves was accompanied by muttered regrets about not wearing warmer clothing. Chatting to other guests, we huddled on benches around the open front deck, admiring the coastal landscape as we headed out to sea.

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The first island we approached was a nesting site for black-legged kittiwakes – adults have yellow beaks and black only at the end of their tail feathers; juveniles have black beaks and additional black markings around their eyes, on the back of their necks and along their wings as well as the tail tips. They made their nests in the natural hollows and on the ledges around the cliff edges. Moving around the island, a geological fascination of sweeping upright striations in the rock drew our attention.

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The next island was the focus of a local myth. Lodged into a natural crack in the island was an immense boulder, said to have been hurled by an angry mountain troll in protest at being disturbed by local church bells. The clincher to the tale, so our guide insisted, was that the boulder has since been tested and is not of the same rock as the rest of the island.

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Moving on again, we found a colony of shags on a series of rocks jutting out of the water.

Finally, it was time to lower the net plough to the ocean bed. A few moments later, the crew winched it back up, opened it and let the contents spill out onto the metal counters below.

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There were about 20 of us on the excursion and we crowded around as two crew members quickly started opening the scallop shells and offering plump raw scallops on the half shell. A little wasabi, soy sauce and pickled ginger were provided, though they quickly ran out. Most of the other tourists politely tried a scallop or two, but seemed nonplussed by the raw seafood and wandered away again. Only a few were willing to try the sea urchin roe, though I did persuade a few more to give it a go, and they enjoyed it.

I was in absolute heaven and said to the younger female crew member that I’d happily carry on eating both as long as she carried on opening them and she seemed very happy to do so. I must have eaten at least 20 enormous plump scallops, so deliciously sweet and fresher than I’ve ever had before. I probably had the roe of five little sea urchins too!

Click to enlarge

Oh, I did miss a sighting of a white-tailed eagle that Pete (not a fan of scallop or sea urchin roe) enjoyed while I was gorging on the sashimi feast. I was far too happy to feel any regret!

Our Viking Sushi Short tour cost us 5,025 kr per person (about £25) and was one of my highlights of the trip.


Like many of the bloggers I’ve invited to this little series of interviews, Urvashi Roe aka The Botanical Baker, has fast become a dear friend. We first met in person (along with her two gorgeous daughters) on a press trip down to Cornwall and bonded over a shared interest in food (of course!), Japan and much more.

Botanical baker banner

Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

I’m Urvashi and I’ve been blogging for about three years. I started after appearing on The Great British Bake Off Series 2 as people kept asking me to write my recipes down and share some of my obsessive knowledge of fruit and veg. I blog about food, my allotment, food from my allotment, my travels and events I get invited to as well as books I am sent for review. Writing about food is a nice form of stress relief from my busy day job.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

The ‘botanical’ comes from being mainly vegetarian. When I was weaning my girls, I got rather obsessive about what the nutritional value of certain foods was. Why did my mum tell me one thing and Annabel Karmell say the complete opposite. So I guess writing it down is a good way to help others see the research. The ‘baker’ element comes from Bake Off but I soon found it a little limiting as I don’t just bake. In fact more often than not I cook vs. bake! I’ve thought about changing the name to encompass the foodie travel that I do more of now my girls are older. But that’s another adventure of its own that needs thinking through.

me by monica
Image by Monica Shaw

What are your earliest memories of cooking?

My mother taught me to cook. There was no choice in the matter at all. She had to go to work early and came home late so she taught me the basics of Indian cooking so I could feed my sisters before she came home. When I had finished my O’ levels, all my friends went off to Greece as a reward. I was not allowed. I had to stay home and learn to cook. My mother taught me a dish a day and how to perfect my chapattis so I could impress my future husband! I was so angry at the time but am very grateful now to have the skills she instilled in me but also the mindset to cook and feed and not exist on fast food and takeaways.

Who or what inspired you to cook?

My husband inspired me to cook. He’s English and until I met him I’d had very few encounters with foods other than Indian. At university I had a few sparks of interest as I lived with international students and I loved trying their different cuisines. But it was my husband who inspired me to try different dishes and learn to cook different ingredients. He was a chef in his early career and I admired the way he could just rustle something up out of a cupboard of what seemed like nothing. Of course now it’s me who is the better cook ;-)

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

I’m reading a book called Cook it Raw at the moment and I’m fascinated by the concept of these world class chefs creating magnificent meals of different textures and layers using just raw ingredients which are mostly foraged.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Red chilli flakes. I’m not quite that Indian that I carry them in my bag at all times but it’s a habit I have to have a bowl of chilli flakes at the table. I cook mild food for my girls but I like a little more heat so the chilli flakes get liberally sprinkled on curries for example. But sometimes after a week away eating Western food or if I’m feeling tired I find a sprinkle on pasta or even salad just wakes me up!

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

One of my favourite books is Paula Wolfert’s Food of Morocco. It inspired a whole trip a couple of years ago. I love how she has taken the traditions and captured the variety of this cuisine. Another book I will cherish is Nigella Bites. It was a Christmas present years ago and kick started my love of baking. She makes it all look so glamourous and easy. The book has so many memories because we’ve used it for so many years. In fact her chocolate cake has been our go to birthday cake since the girls were born.

Another writer I admire is David Thompson. Again his book inspired a trip to Thailand last Easter but what I love is the way he has adapted the dishes to modernise them without losing the thirst for knowing where they’ve come from. I ate at his restaurant in Bangkok and was so inspired by how he has become a mainstream chef that holds the respect of a nation.

nostalgia urvashi roe

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

That’s easy. Japanese food. I know you are as obsessed as I am. I lived there for nearly four years but sadly at the time I didn’t eat fish so I am longing to go back and just eat!

What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?

Oh the KitchenAid. My friends clubbed together and bought it for my 40th. There’s a little plaque on the back and I use it everyday with fond memories of my 40th birthday year.

What’s been your favourite destination thus far and why did you love it so much? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

Without a doubt my most favourite foodie travel highlight has been Morocco. I planned it meticulously for the food. I have so many memories from the trip but the best one was re-living the fish stalls in Essaouria with my daughters. My husband and I visited years ago when we were newly married. I had just started eating fish but had never been brave enough to eat sardines. At the fish stalls in Essaouria, they looked so fresh and I could smell their lusciousness from the charcoal grills. Soon enough I was tucking in with fish juices running down my chin. We’ve told our girls about this experience many a time so taking them there and seeing enraptured in the taste of freshly grilled sardines was just priceless.

fish in essaouira urvashi roe roses in morocco urvashi roe

Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list?

I want to go back to Japan but aside from that and linking back to the Cook It Raw book, I’d like to try Norway and Sweden. It’s such an alien cuisine to me – no spice, little cooking – it’s just intriguing. I also love the fact that these countries are so sustainable. I want to visit food producers over there to learn how they do it. I’m also inspired by their coffee and cake culture and want to learn a few new bakes.

What’s the very first trip you remember taking?

I went to France, Chambery, with school. It’s such a vivid memory because I ate nothing all week. It was all so bland and so boring I think I existed on salad leaves. At the time, as a 13 year old I had only really eaten Indian food so it was all a bit yuk to me. I’d kill to go back now and have that home cooked food!

Where are you going next?

I’ve recently been to Spain on a press trip and have been plotting a road trip with the family. The tapas just blew me away but I also loved the wines and cheeses.

What three things can you never travel without?

My iPhone just in case my camera breaks. My camera. My tea tree oil. A little dab under the nostrils prevents any germs being breathed in on flights and trains.

What’s the best travel experience you’ve ever had?

Travelling with my girls to far off places is just a blessing. I’m so lucky to be able to take them to some of the loveliest places in the world and see them through their little eyes. A trip to Paris comes to mind. I had been commissioned by Eurostar to write about ‘My Paris’. The girls had seen me sharing pictures on facebook all day and when I got home we instantly booked a trip back. We spent the weekend eating éclairs, macarons, gaping at patisserie windows. They gaped at all the things I had been dumbfounded by. They ate with gusto all the patisserie I had found so delectable. It was just the most brilliant set of memories.

paris patisserie urvashi roe

If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

We would go to Japan of course! I would take you to Kichi-joji Koen and the little Thai place I used to go to. We’d go to Akabane station and slurp Tempura Soba. We’d take a train up to Niigata for Maple Leaf Tempura with local honey. I’d have to take you to the little sushi place in Shiinamachi where I ate sushi for the very first time. It only took me 5 months of walking past every day before the owner took me under his wing and shared different sushi with me each evening. We’d have to go to the very dodgy bar in Ikebukuro where I used to teach Yakuza how to speak English and drink Ume Sours all night while dodging the drunken businessmen. And then maybe we’d take a trip down to Yokohama to have dim sum and buy pottery as you are as obsessed as me about both!

Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

Very much so. I write about all sorts of foodie experiences now rather than just share baking recipes. My photography has got a lot better as I have learned to take better shots. My confidence in sharing things that are quite personal has also grown as I have developed a following.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Time. I have a full time job, two girls at school and growing evening commitments so it’s hard to always find the time to write about an idea that comes along. I drive to work now so it’s hard to write on the commute. That used to make me very efficient. I have so many things I want to share but just not enough time to get them all posted on the blog.

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

Reading other people’s posts and recipes. I love the way the blogging world shares so openly and I am learning all the time about what makes a good post, what people will want to read, what I could also write about. It’s all such an interesting environment so different to my day job that it brings a nice balance to life.

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

I am loving my allotment. I’ve recently started writing for Thompson and Morgan and this has really inspired me to do more on my allotment and just get outside. I was weeding in the rain this weekend and loving every minute of it. Seeing something shoot up from the tiniest of tiny seeds is simply magnificent. I also love the company of the little robin who seems to visit our plot regularly.

strawberry canapes urvashi roe xmas deco urvashi roe

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

I have no idea! The stats side of things is something I really should get better. I think this Strawberry Canapé recipe is a popular one though. It’s always in my top ten pages list which is the only stat I do look at!

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

That’s very kind. Seeing as it’s Christmas soon, how about this post about Baiserringe – Meringue based Christmas ornaments?

beetroot pasta urvashi roe nasturtium gnocchi urvashi roe NYC doughnut urvashi roe

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