Food & drink notes

Berry good; Perfect picnics; The real deal; Oven-ready
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Berry good

Every year sees another, miraculous, even-better-for-you wonder food. Currently Acai berries are at the top of the charts. Part of the appeal is that the Acai berry comes from the Brazilian Amazon so it has the added benefits of exoticism and inaccessibility. It also contains a splendid line-up of omega fats, dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and lashings of antioxidants. "Pulpa", the Brazilian Fruit Company, offers Acai berries as a frozen pulp or a freeze-dried powder - both of which work well in smoothies. They have also produced the world's first Acai & Granola Superfood Bar, which retails at around £1.

For details of stockists or to buy direct visit www.pulpa.co.uk

Perfect picnics

For me, one of the things Kenneth Grahame got dead right in his classic book, The Wind in the Willows, is the picnic scene. This occurs when Mole unpacks a feast from the seemingly bottomless hamper and a self-deprecating Ratty wonders aloud whether he hasn't cut things a bit fine. Picnic baskets are wonderful things, and John Lewis is offering a four-person wicker version with all the accoutrements for £70. It is called the Amazon hamper (rather disappointingly because of the material used to line it rather than its suitability for the rainforest). Within are four china plates. Knives and forks. Glasses. Food and wine coolers. Napkins. Tablecloth. And that vital accessory, a "waiter's friend" to open the bottles.

The Amazon Hamper from branches of John Lewis. Four person, £70; two person, £45

The real deal

While there are hundreds of cookbooks published every year, it is seldom you get one that concentrates on the techniques of cooking. Many books are packed with wonderful sounding creations, but when it comes to turning out dishes that look like the ones in the glossy photographs it becomes more tricky. Fresh from his success in the 2006 Great British Menu challenge, Marcus Wareing has come up with How to cook the perfect... It explains how to make a nice deep apple crumble without it going soggy; how to make immaculate poached eggs; the key to perfect crackling on belly pork; and how to make classic French onion soup. You'll also find "all is not lost" paragraphs that give tips on salvaging dishes in the event of a disaster. This is a genuinely helpful and useful book.

'How to cook the perfect...' by Marcus Wareing is published by Dorling Kindersley at £20

Oven-ready

You can always tell working chefs from celebrity chefs because those who still get behind the stoves tend to have burn marks on their inner forearms - something of an occupational hazard. They need an ORKA. This oven mitt looks like something you'd find in the tool kit of a space station. Made out of flexible silicon it can protect your hand and forearm from temperatures as high as 300C. Apparently you could safely put your hand directly over a naked flame ... although I cannot see why you'd ever want to do that. It comes in two sizes, which is a good idea, and because it is waterproof you can wash it in soapy water or even pop it through the dishwasher.

The ORKA oven mitt costs £9.99 and is available from branches of Lakeland, www.lakeland.co.uk

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