Take the biscuit; Fudging the issue; Churning point; Pump action

For 10 months of the year, there's not much call for cookie cutters that stamp out your biscuits into little Christmas trees or portly snowmen, but at this time of year they're back in hot demand as the kids gear up for cookie-making. (Incidentally, why are such things called 'cookie cutters' when British cooks rarely make cookies but often bake biscuits?) These particular pastry cutters are made from durable plastic, which makes them easier to clean than the old-fashioned tin variety.

Christmas tree and snowman cookie cutters, £2.50 each, at John Lewis (08456 049049; www.johnlewis.com)

Fudging the issue

If you are going to indulge, you might as well really splurge. This Rémy Martin fudge is made by Anton Berg, the company that has a reputation for making seriously exquisite liqueur chocolates. It began its production of filled chocolates in 1884 and for half a century now has borne the distinguished title "Purveyors to the Royal Danish Court". Now they have come up with a creamy fudge that is flavoured with fine cognac - the sort of combination that you sometimes find among the petit fours in a slick restaurant.

The Anton Berg Rémy Martin Handmade Cognac Fudge, £4.49 for a 350g box, is available at independent stores as well as branches of Woolworths

Churning point

Arthur Cunynghame is a good egg. His most recent day job was proprietor of the cheese shop Paxton and Whitfield, and before that he spent nearly two decades being a wine merchant. This little book is a gentle and engaging series of anecdotes and reflections about the dedicated people who make cheese and wine, and it is larded with some interesting stuff about various wine regions. Cunynghame may have been honoured as a Chevalier du Tastevin of Burgundy, a Chevalier de Bordeaux and a Chevalier du Taste-Fromage de France, but nothing can have been quite so daunting as self-publishing. Having said that, it's a well-written and charming little book.

To buy 'The Cheesemonger's Tales' for a special price, with free p&p, visit www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk; or order directly from www.loosechippings.org (01386 840435)

Pump action

Tracey Philips is a South African chef who has developed her own elegantly packaged spice range - called NoMU. As well as a range of marinades with no MSG or additives, she has developed a small, shiny, pump-action device that delivers a squirt of real vanilla, seeds and all, so you can forget about tiresomely scraping away at a gnarled pod with the back of a knife. The pump contains the seeds from hand-picked, Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla pods as well as cold- pressed vanilla extract. For the dedicated home cook, this means you get all the advantages of real seeds, a measurable dose - and a lot less mess. NoMU Vanilla Paste, £8.95. For stockists contact Hot Headz! (0800 032 2375; www.hot-headz.com)

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