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I do love a nice cuppa in the morning and anything that stops me from having one - eg a non functioning kettle - tends to feel my wrath! We had been thinking of getting a new kettle - the old one had sprung a small leak but we were waiting until after Christmas to get one. I must have mentioned this to my Mum at some point. Then a couple of days before Christmas the kettle died. I had to settle for coffee from our espresso maker instead of my lovely tea. But with Christmas only a few days away and knowing that we were away we were still going to go with our original plan of buying a new one after Christmas. On arriving at my parents' on Christmas day I saw a nicely wrapped cube labelled up for my husband and myself and upon unwrapping it I found that my parents had bought us a Le Creuset Kone Kettle in graphite to match our Le Creuset items. This kettle is a 1.6 litre hob top so you can use it on any heat source that your hob offers (although not sure if I would want to use it on a halogen hob for fear of scratching!) So how does it work? Well it's a kettle - it's designed to boil water. This kettle has a perfectly smooth flat bottom and is quite heavy compared to an electric kettle but that is because it is made of enamelled steel. The lid is tight fitting but the filling space is large once the lid is removed. I can get my hand inside the kettle (obviously when it is cold!) so it is quite easy to clean and descale (very important in London!). And you have a lovely whistle in the spout to let you know when the water has boiled. So all you need to do is remove the lid, fill to the maximum level, replace the lid, fit the whistle to the spout, place on your heat source and let it boil. For a full kettle it takes about 3 to 4 minutes depending on the heat source level and for a single cup it takes about a minute. How simple is that? Now things you must consider when using one of these kettles - some good and some bad! First of all one of these kettles has no cables or wires so there is no risk of mixing electricity with water or getting cables caught up and tangled. The lack of wires means it can sit pretty anywhere in your kitchen and looks very stylish and even in the short time we've had it, it attracts nice comments about how it looks. The spout is perfectly round and has no groove to help guide the water flow but it does pour well as long as you don't over fill the kettle. All good so far but there are some issues. The first is that the lid and spout are susceptable to limescale and this can affect how easy it is to insert the lid and whistle. The whistle only works when the steam pressure is high enough but this limescale build up can affect the lid seal so steam escapes from the lid. So sometimes there is a danger of boiling the kettle dry if you don't hear the whistle. Also the kettle seems to boil quite vigorously and if you pour straight from the boil it can splutter a bit - best to wait a couple of seconds from removing from the heat before using. There is a maximum marker on the outside that is just for show - the actual maximum level is the three holes inside but if you didn't know and tried to fill it to the line marked on the outside you would have quite a problem! Also there is no point in filling the kettle with more water than you need because you shouldn't leave water standing in the kettle because there is a risk of rusting. But for all the slight annoyances the best thing about this kettle is it does make a cracking cup of tea. And also my sister has had one of these kettles for over a year and uses gas to heat it and has said that they have noticed a small decrease in their electricity bill without their gas bill increasing by as much. So it seems to be cheaper to run! You can get them in a number of colours from the traditional orange through to aqua, almond, teal, cerise, black, blue...you get the picture. It's important to note that especially on sites like Amazon you can get really good offers on these kettles and the colour of the kettle matters - less popular colours can be as low as £25 but the standard RRP is £49. So not much more expensive than we would usually spend on electric kettles that live for 18 months tops! I really like this kettle - it isn't perfect but overall it seems a more robust addition to our kitchen than most electric kettles. The quick rating seems to relate to a television rather than a kettle - the rating reliabilty, ease of use, design and installation apply but picture and sound quality obviously do not!
Coming from a Scottish background it probably seems like heresy that I should buy anything like Ready Brek or Oatso Simple and normally I don't but when I popped round to my local Tesco Express to buy my normal porridge oats they had sold out. I was a bit annoyed because not only do I have porridge to make sure I keep my collestral stays nice and low, I also like it because when I am trying to lose weight a bowl of this in the morning stops my 11 o'clock craving for cake or biscuits because oats are a low GI food which are low(ish) in fat. So because my main shopping delivery isn't until the end of next week, when I saw the 10 36g sachet packs of Quakers golden syrup Oatso Simple were on offer buy 2 for £3 I thought "oh they'll do". After all it was made by the same company that I get my normal oats from usually so it must be ok. Now I was quite interested to see how these sachets turned out. I have never liked Ready Brek because to me it was like baby food and looked (and smelled like sawdust) and getting the right quantities of powder to milk was often hard - one morning it would be fine - the next it would be rock hard! So to get a pack, with a flavouring and all you had to so was add milk and heat in the microwave for 2 minutes I couldn't see any downsides. It certainly beat getting the measuring cups out and standing over a hot stove stirring away or even cooking it in the microwave but having to watch it constantly to make sure it didn't bubble over and stirring it occasionally. How wrong I was! The first thing that annoyed me with the pack was that the easy tear pack was far from easy. In the end I had to resort to scissors. Although there were some whole oats in the packet, the majority was fine powder reminiscent of Ready Brek. But instead of smelling like saw dust it had quite an overpowering sickly sweet smell that is a little like golden syrup but didn't seem as natural. Not an unpleasant smell but not as appetising as I had perhaps hoped for. Not one to be easily put off though I carried on and next came the milk juggling. One of the things I thought would be good about this product was that I didn't need to do any milk measuring. You can pour the milk directly into the pack (once you have emptied the contents) and there is a line marked where you fill the milk up to. How easy is that? Well not quite as easy as you would think for some one with small hands. You see to get a good grip on it (to prevent it falling and splashing everywhere) meant that I was getting less milk in there than I needed. So I ended up resting it on the worktop to complete filling to the designated line. And having done that I tipped the milk into the oat mix, gave it a quick stir and into the microwave on full for 2 minutes (this is based on a category E 800W microwave). You can also heat 180ml of up in a saucepan, add the sachet and stir in until you get the right consistency. According to the pack after two minutes you will take out your bowl and have the perfect porridge. So did I? Simple answer is no....I had milk with bits floating in it. It was also not hot enough. So in the microwave it went again for a further minute. It had an improved consistency but then the bowl was too hot to carry. OK maybe just a little thing but when you want to get on and eat your breakfast it would be nice if you actually get it out of the microwave! So after needing the oven glove to carry it to the table I was ready to sample the porridge. In the short(ish) space of time it had taken me to get from the kitchen to the dining room table a film had formed on the top of the porridge. It wasn't a crust as such but it was more solid than the oats underneath which had now turned into a lumpy wallpaper paste. Now I know normal porridge can seem to solidify and then have the hot oats underneath but that always seems quite natural. What had happened with this product seemed very strange to me and look very unappetising. I persevered and took a spoonful to see if the taste could make up for it. Alas this was nothing like proper porridge with golden syrup - this was grainy Ready Brek with a sweet sickly taste. It was far too sweet for me and looking again at the packaging I noticed that there wasn't even any golden syup in there - it was just natural flavouring, sugar and salt and Lecithin derived from Soya (so no good if you are allergic to soya). The Lecithin is added to stop it boiling over in the microwave. At least when I have normal porridge it is just oats without any additives and if I want to have golden syrup it is the real thing. I really wasn't impressed. However, I do like to give products a chance so the next morning I cooked the porridge on the hob. It took 4 minutes in total - not much less than it does for me to cook normal porridge but it wasn't scoldingly hot as the day before so I could eat it without the "skin" appearing. I also found when measuring the milk in the sachet the next time I used this method that if you do hold it so that you are pinching the sides in rather than putting it on the work top it cooked better in the microwave in the recommended 2 minutes - although it was still a bit too runny for my liking. And although this is a more convenient method of making a hot cereal it isn't as healthy as real porridge. A 36g sachet of this product with 180ml of semi skimmed milk has 210 calories, 16.4g sugars, 5.3g of fat (2.2g of which are saturates) and 0.5g of salt but a 45g serving of my usual oats with 280ml of semi skimmed milk has 250 calories (but remember this is more oats and more milk), 12.3g of sugars, 4.2g of fat (1g of which are saturates) and 0.3g salt. If you just had 36g of normal oats you could reduce these figures by 20%. And the good fibre element that helps reduce your cholestral beta glucan is less than normal porridge. OK so if add in a spoonful golden syrup the sugar content goes up but you don't have to add that! Overall I was very disappointed in this product. The only good thing was that I still didn't get that 11 o'clock cake feeling but whereas I might be able to go until 2pm for lunch I did feel hungrier about 12.30pm instead. For the convenience and if you have never had proper porridge I guess this is OK but for me it doesn't taste as good, it isn't as good for you and overall it is more expensive than ordinary porridge oats.
One of the scariest things I have ever done in my life was to cook for the Italian grandmother of an ex boyfriend. I think it was a test of how well I could look after her beloved grandson and I had no idea what to cook. But the decision of what to cook was made for me - she wanted spaghetti bolognese. I was devastated. How could I make this for a genuine Italian? So I did my beef, onions, tomatoes, garlic and basil sauce - which in fairness she ate and said was pleasant - and the next day I had a phonecall from her to thank me for my hospitality and to give me her mother's recipe. I guess I could have been offended but this was the first of many recipes that she gave me to make sure that I fed her grandson properly (and because she said she liked me - seemingly! Shame I kicked her grandson into touch a few months later). It was also his grandmother who taught me the trick of putting the garlic in at the end of the cooking rather than at the beginning because you need less but it tastes really fresh and there is no danger of burning it. Anyway I digress! I have to admit that over the years I have adapted the recipe a bit - added a few extra ingredients which probably will offend the Italian's among us but we love it now. Grandma's original Minced beef - I use 500g of extra lean beef Good olive oil - 4 tablespoons (I don't use this much now) Half a pint of water Half a pint of milk 2 shallots or small onions large carrot diced stick of celery chopped and diced tin of whole plum tomatoes 2 bay leaves handful of torn basil Salt & plenty of black pepper. Method: 1. Heat a large pan and add the oil. 2. Add the carrot and celery and bay leaves and sautee until they begin to soften. 3. Add the shallots / onions and sautee until they begin to soften but not brown. 4. Remove the vegetables from the pan and add the mince. Fry until brown and separated - there should be no large lumps of mince. Add the vegetables back into the pan with the mince and add the tomatoes together with the water and milk 5. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes until the vegetables are soft but still have bite. 6. Add the crushed garlic 10 minutes before the end and add torn basil leaves right at the end. Add salt to taste and plenty of black pepper. Serve with any pasta. You don't just have to reserve this bolognese for spaghetti. I use this with all sorts of pasta including canneloni and lasagne. It's also quite lovely with mashed potato or rice. Now for my adaptation which is now a firm family favourite. Essentially it follows the same ingredients and method as the above recipe but I add the following and I don't use as much oil or salt: Celery leaves Worcestershire sauce Glass of Good red wine 2 teaspoons vegetable bouillon 2 teaspoons of gravy granules flat leaf parsley Method: 1. Heat a large pan and add one tablespoon of oil. 2. Add the carrot and celery, bay leaves and vegetable bouillon and sautee until they begin to soften. 3. Add the shallots / onions and celery leaves (these can be found mainly on the inside of any head of celery sticks on the younger stems) sautee until they begin to soften but not brown. 4. Remove the vegetables from the pan and add the mince. Fry until brown and separated - there should be no large lumps of mince. 5. Add the vegetables back into the pan with the mince and then add the red wine and the worcestershire sauce. Reduce this liquid down by a third and then add the tomatoes together with the water and milk Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes until the vegetables are soft but still have bite. 6. Add the crushed garlic 10 minutes before the end and add the gravy granules. 7. Add the torn basil leaves and chopped flat leaf parsley right at the end. 8. Add plenty of black pepper. Again this is great with all manner of pasta dishes and is a much denser, richer dish to the more authentic one. I would say that I tend to do this dish in the autumn / winter months but I do the original version more in the summer as it is lighter. The original is still delicious and always impresses but so does my version so you can't miss whichever version you do. I hope you enjoy!
Who can forget the lovely scene in The Lady & The Tramp when the two dogs sit and share a plate of meatballs and spaghetti or even the spoof version of the scene in Hot Shots!? Or who hasn't gone to IKEA and not succumbed to their lovely meatballs? Well in my time I've watched The Lady & The Tramp and Hot Shots! and gone to IKEA and had the urge for meatballs. An ex boyfriend of mine was Italian and his grandmother made the most incredible meatballs using veal, pork and beef mince. What else she put in them I'll never know but they were amazing and inspired me to have a go at making my own meatballs. But alas for me these days this recipe is too fatty for me and you try getting veal mince! So I have come up with my own recipe for beef meatballs and teamed them up with a fantastic tomato sauce that I had in Rome earlier this year. So here is my recipe for spaghetti with beef meatballs and spicy 3 tomato sauce. Ingredients: For the meatballs: 500g beef mince (you can use any mince or a mix of minced meats if you like) 1 tablespoon vegetable bouillon 2 teaspoons mixed herbs 1 teaspoon ground white pepper oil for greasy tray For the sauce: 1 tablespoon good olive oil 2 finely diced banana shallots/2 small onions 200g sundried tomatoes 1 tin of tomatoes (preferably whole plum tomatoes which you break down during cooking but chopped is fine) 250g baby tomatoes (preferably plum and on the vine but ordinary ones are fine) 1 whole dried chilli (or half teaspoon of dried chilli flakes) 1 fresh chilli 2 cloves of garlic Fresh basil black pepper, sugar and salt to taste Enough spaghetti for 4 Large pan of boiling water salt 2 tablespoons olive oil Method: For the meatballs. This is an incredibly easy method and great for relieving stress! 1.Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C 2.In a large mixing bowl add the 1 tablespoon vegetable bouillon, 2 teaspoons mixed herbs and 1 teaspoon ground white pepper. Gives this a quick stir to mix. 3.Add the mince to the bowl and begin to scrunch the meat in between your fingers to evenly distribute the seasoning mix throughout the mince. I tend to do this for a good 10 minutes to make sure it is well mixed and distributed. At this stage the mince mixture looks like a solid mass of meat rather than being individual pieces of mince. 4.Lightly grease a baking sheet or tray with oil and with a teaspoon scoop up a piece of the mince mix. Roll up in between your palms to create a ball shape and place on the greased tray. Repeat until you use all the mixture. The balls are quite small and you should get between 30 and 40 meatballs depending on the amount you scoop up for each ball. 5.Put in the oven for 10 minutes. The beauty of these meatballs is that they can be prepared well in advance or cooked at the same time as the sauce and pasta. If you have 4 people round then you'll get a good number per person but if there are just the two of you and you don't want to be a pig and eat them all then they are easy to freeze and have another day. And they are lovely with homemade chips! The sauce and pasta: 1. Prepare your sundried tomatoes as per instructions ready for use. 2. Put on a large pan of water and bring to the boil. 3. Heat 1 tablespoon good olive oil in a pan and add the finely chopped banana shallots or onions and sautee until they start to soften. 4. Add the two types of chilli and fry for a couple of minutes 5. Add the baby tomatoes and gently move around the pan for a couple of minutes to prevent browning. 6. Add the sundried tomatoes and again move around the pan for a couple of minutes. 7. In the pan of boiling water, add salt and a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the pasta and cook as per guidelines 8. Crush the garlic and add to the pan and then add the tin of tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes 9. Fish out the chillies if you can and then add the meatballs into the sauce. Simmer for a couple of minutes. 10. Add torn basil leaves into the sauce. Add salt, sugar and black pepper to taste and mix in. Drain the pasta when cooked and then pour over the sauce and mix into the spaghetti. Serve immediately. This sauce (with or without the meatballs) a lovely rich but fresh sauce for any pasta. Even without the chilli it is a lovely sauce and the mix of the 3 types of tomato give it a real depth of flavour without being heavy. I hope you enjoy!
I love cooking and I love spicy food but I often don't have much time to cook these days (or it seems write reviews - apologies for going AWOL for a bit!). It would be easy therefore to slip into the tempting and expensive trap of takeaways and ready meals. So to counter this when I do get some time I love to batch cook meals and freeze them for future use. One of our favourites is bean chilli. Now there are two ways of cooking this - the long and laborious way and the easy peasy way. I shall share both methods with you. The Long & Laborious Way This method uses dried beans which require soaking overnight in cold water. You can speed the process up and pour boiling water over the beans and leave to stand for 4 hours but really it is easier to do it the night before and just forget about it because then they are ready for whenever you want to cook them the next day. You will also need two saucepans - one very large one (remember you are batch cooking here) and one medium size one. For this recipe I use the following: 250g red kidney beans 250g pinto beans 250g aduki beans 250g haricot beans 250g black eyed beans (you can use any dried bean really - butter beans, flagolet beans and borlotti are nice but they are much creamier in texture) 4 medium onions - 2 chopped finely, 2 chopped in large chunks 1 tablespoon of olive oil 2 tins of tomatoes (preferably chopped) 2 fresh chillies - chopped with seeds in if you like it hot or chopped and deseeded if you prefer a milder heat (can be omitted) For the following ingredients these are just guidelines - add more or less depending to your taste 1 tablespoon of dried cumin 2 teaspoons of mild chilli powder (adjust to taste) 1 tablespoon of dried mixed herbs 1 tablespoon of vegetable bouillon (or 2 vegetable stock cubes) 3 bay leaves 1 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce (omit if you want a true vegetarian version) 4 cloves of garlic 4 tablespoons of gravy granules or 3 stock cubes and thicken with cornflour (use vegetable gravy granules or stock cubes if you want a vegetarian option) 4 tablespoons of tomato puree 8 tablespoons of chopped coriander. salt and black pepper to season Method: 1:Put the dried kidney beans into bowl on their own and cover with cold water and put the other beans into another bowl and cover with cold water and leave overnight. The reason I like to keep the kidney beans separate at this stage and throughout initial cooking is because if they are not treated carefully they can give you quite bad stomach ache due the toxins contained in them. If this worries you just use a tin of kidney beans and add at a later stage in the cooking process. 2:When you are ready to cook, rinse the beans in clean cold water and place the kidney beans in a separate saucepan (the medium sized one) to the other beans (the very large one). Cover with cold water (I usually add about about 750ml of water to the kidney beans and 2.5 litres of water to the other beans and bring both pans up to the boil. You will begin to notice that a scummy film begins to form on the surface of the water. With a slotted spoon skim the surface of the water and continue to do this whilst the beans are boiling for a further 10 minutes. This is particularly important for the kidney beans. Turn the heat down on the two saucepans, cover and simmer for 40 minutes. 3: After 40 minutes of simmering drain the kidney beans and rinse with cold water until it runs clear. Boil the kettle and once boiled pour over the kidney beans to give them a warm up and final rinse before adding to the large the large saucepan with the other beans. 4: Add 1.5litres of boiling water to the saucepan (remember the water in the pan will have reduced a bit whilst cooking), the bay leaves, cumin, vegetable bouillon/stock, chilli powder, worcestershire sauce and dried mixed herbs. 5: In a frying pan fry off the finely chopped onions with some oil until they take on a nice golden colour in the saucepan and then add the fresh chilli and cook for another 5 minutes adding a splash of water to prevent sticking. 6: Add the large chunks of onion and tins of tomatoes to the saucepan and simmer for 20 minutes. 7: Crush the garlic and add to the saucepan and mix well 8: Add the gravy granules/stock cubes and stir in until dissolved and then add the tomatoe puree and half the coriander. Again mix well. The consistency of the sauce should be quite thick but not so that you have difficulty stirring it. If need by add a little cornflour mixed with cold water if you wish to thicken it to your liking (or add a little water if it is too thick). 9: Cook for a further 10 minutes and then taste for salt. You will have already added some salty products with the bouillon and gravy granules but the recipe does benefit from some additional salt to help bring the flavours together. Add black pepper to your liking and then add in the rest of the coriander. Stir through and then serve with rice or chunky bread. Cooking time: 2 hours + soaking of beans overnight. Easy Peasy Method: Instead of using dried beans, use the following: 1 400g tin of kidney beans 1 400g tin pinto beans 1 400g tin aduki beans 1 400g tin haricot beans 1 400g tin black eyed beans You will just need a very large saucepan for this. 1: Fry off the finely chopped onions with some oil until they take on a nice golden colour in the saucepan and then add the fresh chilli and cook for another 5 minutes adding a splash of water to prevent sticking. 2: Add 3 litres of boiling water and then add the 2 tins of tomatoes, chunky onions, bay leaves, cumin, vegetable bouillon/stock, chilli powder, worcestershire sauce and dried mixed herbs and bring to the boil for 10 minutes. 3: Add the beans and simmer for 20 minutes Then follow from step 7 of the Long & Laborious method to the end. Total cooking time: 1 hour I usually find that for 2 of us I can get 5 meals out of the long and laborious method and 6 out of the tinned method. The ingredient costings are as follows (using Sainsburys for costings): Dried beans 250g red kidney beans - 34p (68p a 500g pack) 250g pinto beans - 47p (93p a 500g pack) 250g aduki beans - 52p (£1.05 a 500g pack) 250g haricot beans - 60p (£1.20 a 500g pack) 250g black eyed beans - 40p (80p per 500g pack) Total for dried beans - £2.33 Tinned beans 1 400g tin of kidney beans - 70p 1 400g tin pinto beans - 68p (based on last time I bought them) 1 400g tin aduki beans - 74p 1 400g tin haricot beans - 38p 1 400g tin black eyed beans - 74p (based on last time I bought them) Total for tinned beans - £3.24 Other ingredients Onions - 50p (approx) Chilli - 25p (approx) tomatoes - £1.10 (55p a can but can get cheaper) Herbs & Spices etc = approx £2 Total Other ingredients = £3.85 Total with dried beans - £6.18 (£1.24 per meal for 2) Total with tinned beans - £7.09 (£1.18 per meal for 2) Verdict: OK so the long & laborious way undoubtedly takes more energy to cook but in my opinion it is a much nicer meal than with the tinned beans. It has more bite to it and because you also have the advantage of the cooking liquor of the beans in the dish it is a much more rounded flavour but it does take time and more care to cook using dried beans. So in many respects the tinned version is still very nice and takes far less time and could be cooked easily after work rather than on a Sunday afternoon (when I do most of my batch cooking). Either way you get a lovely, wholesome and low fat meal with lots of fibre and protein and it is a good alterative to using meat in the recipe.
Since I am now on a fat restricted diet I can no longer enjoy one of my all time simple pleasures - going to Belgium (OK not so simple) and having chips and mayonnaise. Well I don't have to go to Belgium to do that even though they do it so well and I was reminded of this whilst watching In Bruges the other night. In fact I said to my husband "oh I want to go to Bruges again - I wish I could have some chips and mayonnaise". And then half an hour later there I was eating some. No I hadn't teleported to Belgium - he'd gone and made me some. But how can you be eating chips and mayonnaise when you are on a fat restricted diet? Well through the magic of cutting up a potato (or two or even three) and spraying lightly with frylight oil, putting them in a hot oven for 20 to 25 minutes and sprinkling with salt you get your chips and for your mayo you get a big jar of Hellmann's extra light mayonnaise. And as Aleksandr the Meerkat says at the end of his adverts "simples" Well not quite so simples really! You see mayonnaise is unctious and creamy - a lovely rich and gooey delight. Yes it is full of eggs and oil but it can transform the most boring sandwich, jacket potato, chip, egg, sausage (you get the picture) into a real treat. Making it fresh can be a pain but Hellmann's mayonnaise has always been a very good product. Even the Light version is nice. So when at Christmas I saw a jar of Hellman's extra light mayonnaise I thought I would have a look as I knew we would be having buffet meals over the festive season and I quite fancied doing some dips and potato salad. But I wasn't going to do them unless I could eat them as well so this mayonnaise variety may have provided the solution. On reading the blurb on the lilac labelled jar (you can get this in 400g jars and 430ml squeezy bottles for £1.79 and £2.29 respectively in Sainsburys) the product looked great - only 3% fat and 12 calories per tablespoon. Woohoo! It describes it as a great creamy tasting thick mayo. Double woohoo! It looks the same(ish) as normal mayonnaise and it's Hellmann's so it has to be good. So where's the catch? Well the catch is in the taste. As you would expect really. From a consistency point of view it is thick. In fact so thick you can't get it off your spoon without using your finger or the flick the spoon and splat method. It seems slightly more rigid than ordinary Hellmann's mayo and certainly more so than real mayonnaise. It is a pale cream in colour and seems lighter than any other of mayonnaise. This in itself wouldn't be a problem if it tastes fabulous. But the trouble is it doesn't. It doesn't taste bad but you know it isn't the real thing. You can't expect it to be. But I guess I expected it to taste better than it does. It all starts when you open the jar. You are hit by an intense eggy smell - slightly acrid. It put me in mind of the smell you got when you went into the science lab after a lesson where they had been doing experiments with hydrogen sulphide. The nasty smell had gone but there was a slight whiff of it still. That probably makes it sound more unpleasant than it is but it was a more acrid smell than I have been used to with mayonnaise. But that smell doesn't last long thankfully. Then you get to the important taste part. Licking the spoon you immediately feel how creamy the mayonnaise is but it tastes like a stripped down version of mayonnaise (as you would expect) with all the fun gone out of it. It's like a skinny latte but not quite as enjoyable. It tastes a bit too eggy as well - it's as if they are trying to make up for the fact that it is so low fat and so it's not quite as rounded in the mouth as you would like it to be. That's not to say that it is unpleasant but when you've missed eating something you want it to be like angels dancing on your tongue and not a cloying eggy cream. To be eaten on its own or as an accompaniement this mayonnaise takes some getting used to. But blended in a dip or on a sandwich this mayonnaise takes on flavour really well and when stirred it has more of a traditional mayonnaise consistency. So as an ingredient I would have to say that for a low fat cocktail sauce or herby dip or even a chive sauce for potato salad then I would thoroughly recommend it but as a dip on its own then it doesn't quite do it for me. I'm not saying I don't enjoy my chips and mayonnaise now but if I'm honest I put a bit of pepper into the mayonnaise first. And really what I am enjoying is the "I am having chips and mayonnaise moment" more than what I am actually eating. Another thing is this mayonnaise doesn't respond well to heat so best to put it in a small dish if you are eating it with chips than dolloping it on the plate so that the hot chips can get into it. It starts to turn into a clear gel like substance that looks very unnappetising. I think the big problem with this product and others like it is that sometimes being virtuous goes too far and if you can't eat something which is inherently fatty (don't start me on low fat cheddar and the like) then you should avoid it altogether rather than trying to convince yourself that you are still eating the original. It is the fat in these products that makes them what they are and stripping it out means that they lose what we love about them in the first place. This product is ok but should only be used sparingly with a combination of flavours rather than on its own.
OK so I ended up in Lush again last week! I needed some products because I had run out and well three of these Sakura Bath Ballistics somehow ended up in my basket as well. Those Lush pixies are very mischievious! What attracted me (sorry I mean the pixies) was the Japanese element of the product. You see I love all things Japanese - I love the food, the art, the literature, the history and even my skin care is based on a Japanese ritual. I am also attempting to learn the language before we go to Japan in a couple of years. So anything vaguely Japanese related is going to get bought especially if it relates to Sakura - the Japanese name for cherry blossom. My parents had a lovely cherry tree which was always so beautifully perfumed in the spring and so this smell reminds me as well of my parents' house when I was growing up. I would love to go to Japan in the Cherry Blossom season. So with the lovely spring weather we had last week I was ready for a rejuvenating but relaxing bath and this bath ballistic seemed like the ideal one. I was a little bit dubious about using a whole product as at £2.99 this wasn't going to be a cheap bath. It is one of the medium sized ballistics (you can get smaller like the butterball and some varieties have now been made into huge versions) and is easily recognisable as it is white with pink and blue coloured salt crystals dotted throughout. It just looks a lovely clean and fresh product and the fragrance when dry is quite potent. It has a wonderful floral fragrance which smells reminscient of the cherry blossom of my youth. I must say that this fragrance is a created fragrance made by a combination of lemon oil, mimosa, gardenia extract nd orange blossom and jasmine absolute. However the combination is very close to the real thing but the lemon oil adds a real zing of a top note the fragrance which makes it lovely and fresh. So I cut the ballistic in half (quite a messy process - I ended up doing this in a freezer bag to catch all the crumbly bits) and added one piece to my lovely hot bath water. As with all other ballistics the bicarbonate of soda immediately reacted and began to fizz all over the bath releasing some of the beautiful but much softer fragrance. The water went slightly white - it wasn't milky though and there was no glitter or annoying floating debris. And again if you want a bubble bath then this product isn't for you. The fragrance was soft, exotic and uplifting even with just half the product but after a little deliberation (about 5 seconds) I decided that I needed to get the full benefit of the fragrance so in went the other half. As I got into the bath I noticed that the bath water felt softer than usual. I can only think that this was because of the sea salt which is in the product. As well as its antiseptic qualities salt solutions are renowned for softening the skin. I didn't even think about it but my eczema was having a flare up on my leg and after soaking in this bath for a while the itching subsided and my skin was less red and much softer when I woke up the next morning. But as well as my skin being calmer, I felt calmer as well. The bathroom was filled with the lovely fragrance and every time I moved stronger wafts of the fragrance hit me. As I lay there I could feel the stress soaking away. Mimosa, as well as being antiseptic and astringent is well known for its relaxing qualities and gardenia can be used to calm the mind as well. The blended fragrance was working wonders on me. But alas I had to get out of the bath before I became a prune but even though I had been lying in the bath for a good 30 minutes I had little evidence of prune fingers. My skin felt very clean and surprisingly soft considering there was no real moisturising element to the product. I didn't need to rush off and apply moisturiser as I often feel I need to do. And thsi was probably just as well because as I dried off I realised that it wasn't just the bathroom that was retaining the lovely fragrance (you could still smell it for 2 days after I had my bath) but my skin was as well. It was lovely and subtle but I could still smell it on my skin when I sank into my bed about 5 hours later. So in a way I was glad that I didn't need to reach for moisturiser and in fact I didn't use any body moisturiser until the following morning as my skin felt so soft and hydrated. One thing you have to remember with all Lush products is that they are handmade and this became quite evident to me with this product. You see I loved my first bath experience last week and I couldn't wait to repeat it on Tuesday. I did exactly as I did last week but the fragrance was not as strong, was more lemony than floral and the fragrance was beginning to stick in my throat. I was out of the bath more quickly this time but my skin still felt nice. I was quite disappointed though as part of this product's appeal is more the fragrance and sensory experience because if you don't have that you have a bath in white coloured flat water. It very nearly put me off trying the third one tonight. But I thought I would give it a chance in the hope that the first experience was repeated. Thankfully it was and I was back in love with Sakura again. However the middle experience did hit home to me that as great as handmade products are you do run the risk that sometimes the consistency of quality isn't always what it could be. Overall I loved this product and I will be buying it again. I know how good it can be so I am prepared to play a bit of russian roulette to get that experience again. The only trouble is that at £2.99 a pop it could become quite an expensive game to play. However if you are ever at a loose end in a Lush store and you let the pixies guide you into buying a product then make sure they get this one for you.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin. The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch - the Plop-up Edition. I bought this book for my nephew as a reward for using the "big toilet" to do a poo in. Bless him he's been finding it hard to come to terms with poo and toilets and in a last gasp effort to crack this last bit of his toilet training my sister decided that every time he did a poo in the big toilet that he would be rewarded with a book. He told me about this and I said I would buy him one too as I was very proud of him. He went all shy at this point - he is a typical boy! So browsing Amazon for books in the 3 to 4 year old range I found all sorts of amusingly titled books but this title jumped out at me. It wasn't so much the title but the funny hat on the mole that made me take a second look and I realised that the hat was in fact a pile of poo. Now the title made sense and it made me giggle (I am a child yes!). I thought "How apt" and was about to add to my basket when I noticed in the "other items you might like" that there was a pop up or plop up version as the cover describes it of the book. Without hesitation I bought it (currently this hard cover pop up version is £5.99 instead of £9.99 on Amazon). The story of the book is very simple. The Little Mole wakes up one morning to find a pile of poo on his head but he knows it isn't one of his so he sets out to discover the faecal miscreant. But being short sighted he needed help. On his mission he encounters various animals and compares their poo to his unsightly hat until he finds the culprit. What is nice is that it helps your child understand at this difficult stage of toilet training (especially for a boy) that poo is a natural thing and not something to be worried about or ashamed about. So as well as having that lovely element of toilet humour it is a helpful aid at this development stage (especially if you are a parent and toilet training isn't going quite as you had hoped!). The illustration of the book is lovely. It captures the animals in a fun but quite grown up way - they are slightly caricatured rather than being cartoon style and they all have fabulous facial expressions. I could say to my nephew "how is the mole (or whatever animal) feeling?" and he could tell me. What was nice was that each animal he encountered is dealt with on one or two pages so you could turn the page and a new "adventure" has begun and what is also nice about this is that as my nephew read the book more often he began to develop favourite characters so he could go up to grandad or whoever with the page open and say "this one please". This was another level of interaction which my nephew seemed to enjoy. When you first look at each page there is no sign of poo anywhere. Each page is either a pop up or another interaction aid such as pull here tabs and sliders, rotating wheels and flaps. This allows the reader to take in the words and then find the poo so that you can discover what it is like and then the child can compare the image to Mole's "hat". This was undoubtedly the best part of the reading experience for all concerned. My nephew's reaction went from "urgh" to fits of giggles and the adults were able to have a laugh too at the book and also at his reactions. The language of the book is simple but for the younger audience it is quite lyrical. It follows a similar format throughout the book from a description of where Mole is to who he speaks and what he says to how the animal responds. This repetition would be annoying in adult book but it is lovely for your 3 year old as it means that they can anticipate the words and join in with you as you are reading it. It also means you can ask them "what do you think he said?" and you get the answer! There is also a supporting description to the imminent poo which is to be revealed. This is great as long as you can time the description with the reveal. I was hopeless (I don't think I will be getting a job on Jackanory!) but my husband and my sister were much better at it. The book had his attention from the very first to the last word. He loved revealing and hiding the poo over and over. He loved some of the animals but his favourite page was when Mole, having found the owner of the offending poo, decided to let them know it wasn't appreciated. To us this probably wouldn't get more than a smirk but to him this was hilarious. And for the rest of the day he would sneak up next to us, turn to the page and laugh. The only slight issue I had with with book was its size. It is quite a big book and because you had all the "pull here" tabs etc you needed to be sat so that the book was very stable. If the book wasn't stable then you ran the risk of tearing the page as you pulled one of the tabs. It was hard enough for us adults to stabilise the book on our laps (especially with an excited 3 year old jumping around) but more importantly it was difficult for him - the intended reader - to hold the book on his own and operate the tabs. Although the book is quite sturdy being a hardcover, the paper isn't that sturdy so I can see after a bit of use the tabs will tear the paper. I can't see this clouding his enjoyment of the book but if you like your books to be kept in pristine condition then I don't think this will be the one for you! This would be an amusing story in itself but the Plop-up edition adds so much more interaction and surprise to the story and my nephew and everyone else who has to read it to him absolutely love it. Seemingly this is now one of his firm bedtime reads and his constant companion on trips to the toilet. All my sister hopes is that he doesn't take this poo comparison thing too far! So whether you are a child of this age (who needs a hand with their toilet training or not) or you are a parent, grandparent, auntie or uncle (ie big kid!) of a 3 or 4 year old I can thoroughly recommend this book to you. It certainly isn't a pile of poo! By the way the Plop-up version has the words Plop up on the cover so you don't get it confused with the ordinary version so it does look different to the book in the picture. I did ask for a new listing for this one but didn't have any luck. Just thought I would point this out to you so you know what to look out for should you want to buy it.
For most people being invited out for dinner is a real pleasure but for me being invited out for food is a bit of a nightmare. Don't get me wrong it's not the going with friends that causes me the problem - that is very much the best bit for me. But the food and where we eat is the nightmare. You see ever since I was told by a lovely doctor that I had to go on a fat free diet (which has now been scaled up to fat restricted - woohoo!) it is often difficult to find a restaurant that caters for such a diet. So when I go out I usually end up having salad without dressing or fillet steak, chicken or white fish/tuna/prawns, dry vegetables (no oil or butter) and pudding is pretty much out of the window unless they do fruit salad or sorbet. This might not be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that I have always been a bit of a foodie and an exotic foodie at that. One of my favourite cuisines has always been Thai. I love how fragrant the food is and I used to love cooking with coconut (for this reason I also used to love the Indian cooking from the region of Kerala). However, many thai restaurants in this country have a habit of combining these wonderful flavours with far too much oil and so I had to kiss goodbye to eating this food out. That was until a few weeks ago when my husband sent me a link http://www.busaba.com/ for a restaurant called Busaba and said "This is where they want to take us - think you'll be ok?" Hesitantly I surveyed the menu. It actually didn't look too bad. There were the obvious "that'll be swimming in fat" dishes but there were quite a few others that looked like they were really fresh so I told my husband to say OK. However I was still a bit nervous about what I would encounter there so we decided to go and try it out before our dinner with friends. Busaba (which is a Thai flower) is based in London and they have three restaurants in Bird Street, Store Street and Wardour Street and for the purposes of this review I will be reviewing the Wardour Street branch which ideally located for theatre land and a short walk from Tottenham Court Road and Piccadilly. So we all arrived outside the restaurant at 7.30pm on a Friday night. I say we arrived outside but really I mean we arrived at the end of a very long queue which went past the restaurant. We couldn't even stand and look in on what everyone was eating! However we didn't let this put us off and we stood there (with our umbrellas up by now) waiting patiently even though the queue didn't seem to be moving very quickly. A server came out with menus and took down the number in our party (in this case 2). We stood there chatting for about 5 minutes and then suddenly the same server appeared again and said "Follow me". We were queue jumping. We must have walked past 50 people. It was great! You see you don't book a table at this place so they serve you as and when they have space. So being 2 people was advantageous to us. We were led by the waitress into a large open plan restaurant. In fact Busaba isn't called a restaurant but rather an Eathai as they believe a restaurant implies a more formal dining experience whereas here it is very cosy communal dining. It isn't like Wagamamas where you sit on long bench tables (although you do sit on a bench) but each table is a large square where you can sit 10 diners comfortably. Sometimes they squeeze more on a table but this is for larger parties. We saw one party had 14 in there on one table. As you enter on the left there is a Thai god/goddess figure sat amongst various plants with incense burning and lots of tealights. This is quite a nice touch and helps to set the mood. Each table is illuminated by a large low hanging light and was set with brown paper mats. On top of each mat was white paper napkin with a pair of wooden chopsticks on top of that. Overall the lighting level in the restaurant is quite low but very pleasant and combined with the dark wood floor and wooden furniture you have a feeling of the traditional with a contemporary twist. The bar/service area looks very clean and modern as did the coat hanging area. The atmosphere was buzzing and friendly. It was really relaxing even though you could tell that everything around you was constantly changing as diners left and arrived. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves and all you can hear is the swell of other diners chattering away either amongst their group or fellow diners as busy servers duck in an out with huge trays full of food. On numerous occasions we heard diners ask fellow diners what it was that they had just ordered or comment on how nice their food looked. Of course there were some diners keeping themselves to themselves but because you don't book you sit where you are put so if you are looking for a quiet romantic meal this may not be the place for you. That said the atmosphere is great so it is an ideal date place. Well I wouldn't have minded going there for a date anyway! The service was fast and professional. Some might call it aloof or abrupt because there was no real rapport built between you and server. You don't have waiters and waitresses in the traditional sense. They don't greet you, show you to your table, take your drinks order, bring the drinks, take your food order etc like you get in most restaurants but rather you will encounter a number of servers. However each one was polite and efficient but not overly friendly. Yet that didn't really matter. It wasn't a bad thing - in fact in many ways I prefer this approach to having to have small talk you would rather not be having with a waiter/waitress. But that might just be me! Now of course the reason most people go to a restaurant is because of the food. The menu is quite varied but don't expect to see starters and main courses. The food is served together in one course and features a range of fuller sized plates, rice dishes and side dishes. You can order a dessert if you want to afterwards though although the choice is limited with desserts such as green tea ice cream and red bean paste fritters. There were a few more dessert dishes available but to be honest we were so stuffed from the main courses that desserts were not an option for us. The rest of the menu is divided into Salads, Soup Noodle, Wok Noodle, Stir-fry, Rice, Grilled, Curry and Sides. The prices of each dish vary - some seem very expensive for what they are and others quite cheap. They range from £6 to £11 per "main" dish with sides ranging from £1.70 to £5.90. The drinks were a mix of Asian influences. You had your usual soft drinks with freshly squeezed juices, herbal teas, Thai and Asian beer and sake. The wine list is quite small but very reasonably priced. The menu makes the food sound really appealing and appetising and you can see that there are many authentic ingredients and flavours used in each dish. You could have dishes like Aromatic Butternut Pumpkin Curry or crabmeat egg fried rice or Rose Apple stir fry. All of these descriptions just want to make you tuck in. But on this occasion I chose Pandan chicken from the stir fry section which is chicken marinated in garlic and coriander root, wrapped in pandan leaves, Chinese broccoli with garlic and shitake mushrooms and jasmine rice, whilst my husband had Char grilled rib eye beef, crabmeat egg fried rice and Goang Tohd Prawn in breadcrumb with chilli green mango dressing. And all of this was washed down by a nice cold Singha beer. Now I have to say that despite the place being full to the rafters nearly, our food arrived within 15 minutes of ordering. This was great as we were starving! Overall the food was a bit hit and miss. It was pleasant but it didn't blow me away. The Pandan chicken was moist but not greasy (a big consideration for me) yet the flavours quite imbalanced with the garlic being too overpowering. The soy dip was lost against the chicken and the pandan leaf wrap was a great talking point but the novelty of breaking the chicken out of the parcels wore thin after a while especially there were 7 of parcels with 2 pieces of chicken each. The quality of the chicken was also not the greatest as it was either tough and stringy or a bit gristly. The jasmine rice was a little dry and the Chinese broccoli came covered in slices of garlic and a couple of shitake mushrooms. At the bottom of the dish was an almost broth like sauce which was just plain messy and tasteless. That said I was stuffed after eating this. The portions are not huge but are filling so you must be careful not to over order. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy the food but it could have been a lot better. My husband however fared much better and his steak was beautifully cooked medium rare and cut into strips to dip into chilli sauce, the prawns were nice and crispy with a delightful sauce and the crabmeat rice was lovely and sweet and spicy. My only other gripe is that we could have done with ordering another drink whilst eating but it was really hard to grab a server's attention unless you had empty plates! So we decided to go to the pub after instead. This little lot set us back around £45 which wouldn't have been too bad if the food was up to scratch but it seemed a little much for what we had. There was no service charge though for a party under 5 persons and we didn't leave a tip. However for parties over 5 there is a suggested 10% service charge will be added to the bill. I had to visit the facilities before I left and again I felt that these were in need of an update. Going downstairs to the toilets it seemed like it would be the same kind of plush contemporary feel of the main eating area but the closer you got the more you felt it needed a bit of attention. The signs on the doors were a little confusing - the ladies looked like a double angled closed up S and the gents look like a single crooked figure. Luckily I guessed correctly! The toilets were clean and had all the usual ladies facilities but they just needed to be freshened up décor wise and the doors were really heavy. The sink was cute though. It was a sunken sink with a mirror above and the soap dispenser was in the sink and I thought I could see the reflection of dispenser in a mirror at the back. But then I realised when I saw a pair of manly hands attacking the soap at the same time as I was that I had either undergone some strange transformation or there was actually only one sink in between the ladies and gents. The soap was lovely - it had the distinct medicinal smell of galangal and was a lovely touch for a thai restaurant. There were no dryers but rather paper towels. I have to say I prefer dryers but again that is just my preference. Overall we had a nice time and we did go back there with our friends on Saturday. We got there at 8pm and it took us longer to get in as there were 4 of us but it was still a nice buzzing place to eat. Again the food was a bit hit and miss but the atmosphere more than made up for it. We will definitely be going back there in the future but I don't think it will become a regular haunt.
I love having friends over for dinner but when they say "yeah we'll pop in for lunch" my heart sinks. What do you serve? You have to think about portion sizes, not doing anything too heavy but not doing something too bland and you also have to resist the temptation to go "actually I know a nice pub that does great food". So a couple of years ago I came up with this recipe for a thai style steak sandwich (you can substitute the steak for chicken or tuna steaks or you can use portabella mushrooms for vegetarians - i always allow two mushrooms per person). It is easy to make, although it does use a few ingredients which you may not have readily to hand if you are not a seasoned thai food cook at home. But these are readily available in all good (and possibly some bad) supermarkets. You can prepare the steak (or equivalent) a few hours in advance as well so you are not slaving in the kitchen when your guests arrive which is also a big advantage! Preparation time: 10 minutes Marinating time: 20 minutes to 2 hours Cooking time: 6 to 16 minutes for steak or fish. Chicken will be 20 to 25 minutes Ingredients: 100 to 200g of rump steak per person (try and get it with as little fat as possible or cut it off). Leave the steak whole and slice after cooking so it doesn't over cook. a finger's worth of fresh ginger 2 or 3 cloves of crushed garlic (you can use one if this is too strong for you) 1 red chilli, finely chopped (you can deseed if you wish but I prefer not to) 2 tablespoons of thai fish sauce juice and zest of one lime 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar 3 tablespoons of light soy sauce 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce 1 or 2 teaspoons of sugar to taste (you don't need salt due to the salt in the soy sauce and fish sauce - the sugar helps to balance) a good grind of black pepper Handful of chopped coriander Rocket or other salad leaves a spring onion per person (optional) ciabatta rolls (the ones which are the same size as you would get from a sandwich shop). Method: 1: Finely peel and chop the ginger. 2: Crush the garlic and add this and the ginger into a large bowl 3: Add the the finely chopped chilli and lime zest 4: Add all the wet ingredients and stir. Add sugar to taste 5: Place the pieces of steak (or equivalent) into the bowl and make sure it gets a covering of the marinade. 6: Put the bowl in the fridge for a couple of hours , turning the meat (or whatever) occasionally so that it gets equal chance to stand in the marinade licquor. You can just marinade for 20 minutes but to really tenderise the meat the longer you can leave it the better. If you are using mushrooms you only need to do this for 30 minutes tops. 7: When you are ready to serve lunch, heat a griddle pan or frying pan with a little oil (or frylite oil if you are being very healthy) and cook the meat to everyone's liking. Rare steak usually takes about 2/3 minutes a side and well done usually 8 minutes a side for the size of steaks you are cooking. Reserve the marinade. 8. Whilst the steaks are cooking split the ciabatta roll and add the rocket or salad leaves. 9: Finely chop the spring onion and reserve for the "drizzle". 10: Once the steak is cooked put to one side on a warm plate for a few minutes whilst you reduce the marinade slightly to form the drizzle for the sandwich. Add the spring onion at this stage. 11: Slice the steak/meat/mushroom and arrange in the ciabatta before spooning over a tablespoon of the reduced marinade and serve with kettle chips or just on its own. This is a really adaptable recipe and it goes down a treat. The marinade is lovely and rich but fragrant and fresh and the meat is really tender and succulent so you don't need to keep too much fat on it. The marinade drizzle and the meat juices soak into the ciabatta and make it even more moist and yummy. If you are worried about the salt content of some of these ingredients use reduced salt varieties of the soy sauce. It is also surprisingly filling but you don't feel bloated after. If you wanted a stickier and sweeter version of this you just need to add a couple of tablespoons of honey at step 4 in the method instead of the sugar. This gives the meat a lovely sticky caremalised taste and is totally scrummy. You can also add button or straw mushrooms and onions if you want to. They can get a quick dip in the marinade and they can be fried or sauteed if you want to bulk out the sandwich. All I can say about this sandwich is that is always goes down well and is delicious. It is quite an easy way to make a steak sandwich quite posh!
My husband thinks I carry an anvil around in my many handbags but everything I carry is essential for me to function effectively in the big wide world outside my front door. Please note I do not believe in small handbags! So where to start: My phone - well my pda to be precise: One of the disadvantages of running a business and working from home is that it can become a bit claustraphobic. You don't want to go out in case you miss a phone call with potential business or an urgent email or a wonderful supplier offer. My PDA allows me to keep on top of my day to day business stuff outside of the house so this is always by my side (or in this case in my bag). My diary: This is an A5 size diary. You would think that with a pda I wouldn't need one of these but I do. It contains much more than dates and appointments. It has my thoughts and ideas either relating to customers or if I see something on my travels which inspires a design in me I scribble it down in the first coffee shop that I come across. Pen: Well I need to something to scribble things down with. Business Cards: You never know what opportunities will come your way! I've handed out my card to ladies that I've been chatting to when we were sat next to each other when we've been having our my nails done. Or because I love make up, I spend alot of time talking to cosmetics assistants and alot do freelance bridal make up/know someone who does bridal hair/make up so it makes sense for them to give me their details and me to give them my card as we are working in the same industry. Oyster Card: Vitally important for travelling around London. Small London AtoZ: I have to go all over London and this is a godsend as it also has a tube map on the back. Always handy when one tube line goes bum! Make Up: My essential kit is as follows: Laura Mercier lip corrector pencil Laura Mercier lip gloss or Mac lipstick Laura Mercier concealer Nars Mascara My going out after an appointment/shopping trip kit is as follows: All of the above plus Mac or Laura Mercier Eye shadow Mac eyeliner Laura Mercier Blusher Laura Mercier travel make up brushes Lip Balm: Either Bobbi Brown or Lush (currently Let them Eat Cake) together with Carmex Hair Brush: Well you never know when you'll need it Hairspray: Only when I'm going out. Umbrella: I always carry my Radley compact umbrella - better to be safe than sorry! Personal Lady items: Again better to be safe than caught out! These live in the side pocket. Inhaler: The bain (and saviour) of all asthmatics Indigestion Tablets/Ibuprofen/paracetemol/other meds: Needed more and more as I get older unfortunately! Packet of tissues: Essential in London to get rid of black bogies! Antibacterial gel: Again essential if you use public transport in London! Purse: Well obviously and of course this is stacked full of my favourite things ie credit cards and loyalty cards. And occasionally there is the odd tenner in there! Oh and my Cafe Nero loyalty card thingy. iPod: I have an 80mb classic with ear buds. Always important for tube journeys and for wandering around the park in a world of my own. Keys: As much as I like getting out of the house I do like getting back into it! Mints: Either extra strong or TicTacs. A Teaspoon: Well I often grab a lunch from M&S or Boots and I often get a yoghurt and always forget to pick up a spoon. So have found it easier to bring my own! Crystal and pearl samples: I design bridal accessories and if I'm not with a customer in a bridal shop or in their home, I'm often to be found in bridal shops looking at new collections in the flesh rather than on the net to get a feel for the new colours and shades which are en vogue. That way I can find the best crystal and pearl matches for those colours and ensure I am well stocked for the season. Receipts and used train tickets: I have piles of them. I should throw them out more often than I do but I kind of forget about them. I do sort them out but it's about once a year! I think that is it which is probably just as well as it does make for a very heavy bag! Thank you for reading!
I love fish and seafood. There was always something really exotic about it when I was growing up. My gran even used to make boil in the bag cod with parsley sauce seem attractive (although not sure I would go for this now!). But in recent years fish has become a main staple in our diet as it is usually low fat, full of Omega 3 and all the other good oils and it is quick and simple to cook. However a while there are only so many fish pies, fish fillets, whole fish and fish steaks that you can eat and I was looking for a nice healthy fish stew to cook. So browsing through my cook books I stumbled across a spicy tomato based fish stew which I have adapted over the years and is great with both fresh and frozen fish and can have seafood added as well if you are feeling a little indulgent. There are a couple of favourite variations that I will share with you too. Spicy fish stew - main version (serves 4) Ingredients Preparation time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 25 minutes 4 fresh thick cod steaks (or any firm white fish - monkfish is lovely as well) 1 tablespoon of olive oil or 10 squirts of Frylight olive spray or similar if you want an even healthier option. 1 green chilli (you can use red)* 1 large onion 1 green pepper diced 1 stick of celery 1 tin of chopped tomatoes 1 pint of vegetable stock Juice and zest of 1 lime 1 tablespoon of tomato puree salt and pepper to taste handful of chopped coriander. Rice to accompany * you can chop the chilli and leave the seeds in if you want to or you can chop and deseed it depending on how "hot" you like your food. But I find the best way to get a background heat without having to endure biting into bits of chilli is to cut the chilli length ways but leaving the top in tact and then popping it into a dish. That way you get the benefit of the seeds and the flavour of the chilli and you can fish it out before serving. Method 1. Chop the onion finely 2. Chop and dice the pepper and celery into quite chunky pieces. 3. Heat a large pan and add the oil 4. Add the onions and cook until softened and then add the pepper, chilli and celery until they begin to soften. 5. Add the tomatoes and mix thoroughly. Cook for 5 minutes. 6. Add the vegetable stock, lime juice and lime zest and bring to the boil for 5 minutes. 7. Reduce to a simmer and add the tomato puree. Stir well 8. Add the cod steaks. 9. Put the lid on the pan and cook for 10 minutes or until the cod steaks are starting to flake but not fall apart. 10. Turn off the heat and add the chopped coriander reserving some for a garnish. Taste and season as appropriate. Serve with rice and sprinkle with coriander. What you get is an incredibly fresh tasting stew and delicate fish with the rice soaking up any of the lovely juices. The lime, chilli and coriander give the dish an asian influence but of course you can leave out these elements and replace the coriander with flat leaf parsley and you still have a lovely tasty meal. The best bit is you can make this in a hurry and yet not have to worry about the usual calories that fast food brings. It has always gone down well with guests who also love some of my variations. Here are some of the variations I have found to be quite successful over the years. The Store Cupboard version. Ingredients 3 frozen white fish fillets (cod, haddock, hake or coley work well) 1 tablespoon of olive oil or 10 squirts of Frylight olive spray or similar if you want an even healthier option. 1 teaspoon of mild chilli powder if desired 1 large onion 1 tin of chopped tomatoes 300g of frozen peas 1 pint of vegetable stock 1 tablespoon of tomato puree salt and pepper to taste Mixed dried herbs. Rice to accompany Method 1. Chop the onion finely 2. Heat a large pan and add the oil 3. Add the onions and lay the fish fillets (still frozen) over the top of the onions. Cover with the lid for 5 minutes. 4. The fish should be nearly defrosted by now so add the tomatoes and the chilli powder and mix thoroughly. Cook for 5 minutes. 5. Add the vegetable stock and the mixed herbs and bring to the boil for 5 minutes. 6. Reduce to a simmer and add the tomato puree. Stir well and cook with the lid on for 10 minutes or until the fish flakes easily into small pieces. 7. Turn off the heat and add the peas to heat through. Taste and season as appropriate. Serve with rice and sprinkle with coriander. This is a great standby meal. It isn't as fresh tasting as the one above but it is just as wholesome and filling and always goes down well. Mediterranean Version 4 fresh thick cod steaks (or any firm white fish - monkfish is lovely as well) 20 large fresh tiger prawns (you can use cooked ones but they should be added in right at the end) 1 tablespoon of olive oil or 10 squirts of Frylight olive spray or similar if you want an even healthier option. 1 green chilli (you can use red) 1 large onion 1 green pepper diced 1 bulb of fennel diced 1 stick of celery 100g of pitted black olives (either halved or left whole)* 1 tin of chopped tomatoes 1 pint of vegetable stock 1 tablespoon of tomato puree salt and pepper to taste handful of chopped flat leaf parsley. Rice to accompany * you don't have to use 100g of olives - these can be omitted or you can add just a few depending on your tastes. Method 1. Chop the onion finely 2. Chop and dice the pepper, fennel and celery into quite chunky pieces. 3. Heat a large pan and add the oil 4. Add the onions and cook until softened and then add the pepper, chilli and celery until they begin to soften. 5. Add the tomatoes and mix thoroughly. Cook for 5 minutes. 6. Add the vegetable stock, and bring to the boil for 5 minutes. 7. Reduce to a simmer and add the tomato puree and the olives. Stir well 8. Add the cod steaks. 9. Put the lid on the pan and cook for 8 minutes and then add the fresh prawns. 10. Replace the lid and cook until the prawns are cooked and the cod steaks are starting to flake but not fall apart. 10. Turn off the heat and add the chopped parsley reserving some for a garnish. Taste and season as appropriate. Serve with rice and sprinkle with parsley. This is quite a luxurious version of this dish. The fennel adds a lovely hint of aniseed which goes so well with fish and the prawns add a nice opulent feel. The olives give it a nice kick and the black against the white, green and red of the dish looks great. So if you are stuck for a fishy dish I would thoroughly recommend these ideas to you. You can easily adapt them and they are quick and healthy so you can't really lose! Enjoy!
For more years than I care to remember I have bought mascara. I've bought cheap mascara, expensive mascara, lengthening mascara, and thickening mascara but what I have never bought is the same mascara twice in a row. Actually that isn't quite true because I love coloured mascaras (i.e. any colour other than black or brown) and so if I find a colour I like I buy that over and over again until they discontinue it usually! However I always put coloured mascara over black or brown mascara to help intensify the colour and even then only on the tips. So it doesn't really matter to me if coloured mascara does what it says on the tin. But it does matter to me that a black or brown mascara does what it claims. And that is why I have never bought two of one brand twice in a row because frankly I have never found one that does what it claims to do (or at least not cause me a headache trying to get them to work properly). And another bug bear of mine is being able to find a mascara in the elusive brown/black colour which isn't too brown or too black. So my latest quest has been for a mascara that really claims to do nothing extraordinary. All I want is a mascara which adds colour to my lashes. I don't want longer lashes. I don't want thicker lashes. I don't want curlier lashes. I don't want a mascara with a fancy shaped and bristled brush or a fancy formula. And to be honest I thought I was never going to find it. So when I ran out of my last mascara I just bought the nearest mascara to hand but I was never happy with it. That was until I ended up nosing around the Nars counter in Liberty a few months ago. Nars cosmetics have for about the last 10 years provided my rebellious, eccentric side with its WOW factor. I love make up and I love to experiment with colour and techniques and Nars, the brain child of Francois Nars who has worked with designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana, has provided the bright, vibrant colours which allow me to do that. On the face of it they might look like they are not for the faint hearted but the beauty with their products is the ability to layer and add to the colours so you go as subtle or as bold as you like. It was the last place though that I expected to buy my next mascara. After buying a few other products the assistant asked me if I needed any basics. I remembered my need for mascara and asked what products they had. And my cynicism of all things mascara called me to ask "and what does it claim to do?" The assistant looked at me strangely and said "put colour on your eyelashes". I was overjoyed but a little taken aback. I sought reassurance. "So it doesn't lengthen or thicken or anything like that?" It was explained to me that the fact that you put a product on your lashes will automatically lengthen and thicken your lashes (well that is obvious - I'm not stupid!) but what it doesn't do is artificially enhance what you already have. I think the assistant thought I was disappointed but when I explained that this was exactly what I wanted she then proceeded to show me the brush and explain that the mascara has conditioning rose oil in its ingredients but that it is fragrance free. Having tried the product in store I purchased it for £16. I know this seems quite expensive but read on. One thing you are guaranteed of with Nars products is that you get a lot of style for your money. All their products are housed in cases designed by Fabien Baron. They are black and almost soft and springy to touch. Some products give you a sense of opulence with gold casings - these give you a sense of simple chic style. And the mascara is housed in a long, sleek, square soft touch tube. So the brush is very small and compact compared to some of the huge, many bristled, shaped brushes from other mascaras that claim to lengthen, curl and thicken your lashes (although the wand is of a standard length). There is no shaping in the brush at all - it's just straight. The bristles are very small compared to other brushes but are further apart than we are probably used to these days. This is great though because it separates my lashes so that they don't clump together and the mascara also glided on evenly. I didn't need to get my lash brush out to separate them or get rid of lumps. This was what annoyed me about so many of the mascaras that I have purchased previously. The number of times I had to brush out lumps and clumps and even remove and reapply. A mascara never seemed to last me very long. The fact that I didn't need to apply a second or even a third coat also meant that my lashes dried quickly. They are certainly dry within a minute - you just need to make sure you don't sneeze in that time! My lashes looked longer but more because they looked darker rather than they had extra liquid to extend them. They didn't look thicker and they didn't look curlier. They just looked lovely and natural. They felt soft and not as stiff as a board. I was over the moon. But what of the colour? Well Nars do two colours of mascara - both in normal and waterproof formulas (the waterproof versions are £17 each). These are Black Orchid and Bamboo. I was a little surprised by this given the wonderfully bright eye shadows and liners that they do. Black Orchid is black (there's a surprise!) but Bamboo is a dark brown. Both shades have dense colour pigments so you get maximum impact with little stress. It also lasts all day so you don't have to reapply to get the same depth of colour. Bamboo isn't brown/black in the traditional sense but it is a far darker brown than in any other brown or even some of the brown/black mascara I have used. For me it is just a bit darker than my natural lashes so I get the definition of wearing mascara without it looking unnatural. I decided to buy the Bamboo shade on the first occasion and I have since bought another one and Black Orchid. This mascara is also easy to remove. I don't use make up remover - I just use my cleansing oil which is just as effective. I found that the mascara doesn't leave any residue so there is no danger of panda eyes in the morning. I cannot vouch for the waterproof mascara but I should imagine that it would need a little more removing as with any waterproof product. One of the other advantages that I have found with this mascara is that it does last the full 3 months. You shouldn't keep using a mascara anyway after this time for hygiene reasons but I haven't used a product that lasts this long before. The brush also stays relatively clean - it doesn't clog up or need to be cleaned too often and it also doesn't get overloaded with product when you take it out of the tube. This means that the very fine lashes get as even a coating as well as the thicker more prominent ones. For me this product does exactly what I want it to do. If you want huge long, thick, curly lashes then this isn't for you but if you just want a simple product that feels great and looks lovely and natural then I would certainly look out for it at your nearest Nars stockist (usually a SPACE.NK apothecary shop or larger departments stores like House of Fraser or Selfridges or Harvey Nichols) or you can buy it online from www.narscosmeticsonline.co.uk.
Before I start this is just a review of the film. I have always had mixed feelings about Woody Allen films. I hated them when I was younger. They seemed full of bumbling characters that I couldn't identify with. But as I've got older and I've watched his films more often I've realised that actually I just didn't understand the subjects that well and any mixed feelings that I still have is more because some of his films are a bit hit and miss. However, my husband is very much a fan and so whenever a Woody Allen film is on it is either recorded, we go and see it or it is added to our DVD list. And so for the first time the other evening I sat down to watch his 2004 film Melinda and Melinda. The premise of this film is simple. Set in Allen's beloved Manhatten four friends - two playwrights and their intellectual friends begin to discuss the following: Is life a tragedy or a comedy according to how you look at life? Are things really that bad or can you find something good in every situation? So the story begins. Well really it is two stories - one comic and one tragic. They overlap in themes and sometimes they use the same lines but they have different actors and slightly different stories but both have a common start - a woman arriving unannounced at a dinner party and the woman arriving at both parties is the lynch pin of the film, Melinda (played by Radha Mitchell). And as the stories unfold you are left to ponder which one ends up comedic and which one ends up tragic and at what point each story turned from one to the other. One thing I have learnt from watching Woody Allen films is just to watch them. You don't need to analyse them because the message is spelled out for you in the first few lines of the film - you just have to sit back and take it all in. However you would think with two interwoven stories that you would need to concentrate more but because you only have one common actor who is plays the common character in such a disparate way to the other story it is surprisingly easy to follow. And for that to happen you need to thank Radha Mitchell for such a good performance as both Melindas. Despite her similar story in each storyline you can tell the difference of each version - even when they both look exhausted from what life has thrown at them you can tell which Melinda is which. She goes from being tragic to being carefree and back again throughout the film and she perfects the almost forced acting style prevalent in most of Allen's films. Some might call it ham acting but it isn't. It is almost a self conscious way of acting which reflects Allen's own acting and the personality he adds to his films. What I loved about this film was that it was just entertaining - it was witty, you had great lines and great actors delivering them, you had moments you could giggle at, you had moments you thought "oh no" and it was all wrapped up in the lovely New York lofts and apartments that any good New York film should be set in. The sets are very well chosen and seem to suit each couple and person in them. You don't feel like anyone is out of place. And I think the beauty of a lot of his films is that he is so hands on with the casting of his actors that each scene becomes like an ensemble piece rather than a film set. The rest of the cast go from the very well known to the "oh what have I seen them in?" to the "who is that?". Noticeable inclusions in the cast are Chloe Sevigny, Will Ferrell, Jonny Lee Miller and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Sevigny gives a lovely measured performance as does Ejiofor. And Jonny Lee Miller is surprisingly comfortable in his role. But perhaps comparable to Mitchell's performance is that of Will Ferrell. Anyone who believes that Ferrell should stick to her trademark comedies really should watch his performances in films like this and Stranger Than Fiction. His role is essentially the role that Woody Allen would take on himself - the exaggerated, self deprecating, terribly socially observant, neurotic character that Allen has made his own. There are great one liners for him to deliver and he does this with ease and great timing. He is an incredibly likeable character. His shock and dismay at burning his Chilean Sea Bass lightly dusted with lime whilst someone collapses from a suicide attempt is classic. It is unusual not to see him with his usual crowd of comedic actors to back him up I must admit. So it is slightly ironic that I said to my husband "all we need now is for Steve Carell to turn up" and 30 minutes later or so sure enough he does. OK it's just a small part but it did make me giggle! All in all though the casting and acting is superb and it really does make this film enjoyable to watch. Before I watched the film I had heard about it but from what I can remember it had received mixed reviews - nothing unusual about that then. I think you either love or hate his films or you compare them to some of his classics like Annie Hall or Manhattan or Hannah and Her Sisters. And I wouldn't say that this film comes close to any of those but that doesn't stop it from being enjoyable. It is flawed, the ending isn't that great, the stories are a little unbelievable but for the time that it is on the screen you want to watch it. And like all of his films it is worth watching (well apart from Match Point perhaps!). Allen always seems to produce consistent and good quality films. As an independent film maker he has developed his own directing, acting and writing style over the years. He doesn't let the films become too serious - even if the lighter side is provided by him or another actor as a neurotic, loveable character. There are no real special effects. There are just well chosen and put together sets, well chosen (usually) ensembles of actors and great music in the soundtrack. There is something about his film styling that although often set in New York (apart from his last few films) they feel European in style. And that adds charm to films like Melinda and Melinda as they don't feel quite real but you can identify more easily with the themes and the characters on some level. And not only does this film have the key characteristics of an Allen film it also has the trademark jazz in the title music (as well as throughout the score) and the use of black and white title cards with the vintage styled Windsor font. This title and credits set up has been in pretty much everything he's done since Annie Hall. And there is something comforting really about this because you feel that this isn't designed to be a crowd pleaser but a production born from an individual who does pretty much what interests him. And that is quite refreshing against the backdrop of formulaic Hollywood movies of today. That's not to say Woody Allen films aren't formulaic but it is his formula and he's sticking to it! I really did enjoy this film but I didn't actually expect to. Like I say I do have mixed feelings about his films and there are better Woody Allen films but this one was just a nice gentle and pleasant way to spend I hour 40 minutes of an evening. I think if you hate all things Woody Allen then you are in for more of the usual and you should probably avoid but if you don't mind them or if you've never watched one before and you like a nicely put together film then you should give it a look.
Ok so I'm getting withdrawal symptoms from not writing a Lush review for over a week! In the latest instalment of "The strangest thing happened in a Lush store the other day" I was sniffing around the bath ballistics and I was drawn not to the bright and pretty looking ones but to the large basket of one of the smallest and cheapest (£2.20) products - Butterball. And amazingly I managed to pick them up and get to the till before I was seduced into buying something else by those sirens called Lush shop assistants. I have to say that I am not really a fan of the ballistics range - in my experience they either stain your bath, leave it covered in oily scum or they leave it covered in glitter or soggy flowers or something else equally messy. But I am quite fascinated by them in a strange way and these white balls looked totally inoffensive and bath (cleaner) friendly. But what I also liked about this ballistic was that it had cocoa butter and ylang ylang oil in a vanilla base (this vanilla base though is a synthetic fragrance and not the real thing). I loved the idea of the cocoa butter shavings to help moisturise and the ylang ylang and vanilla to give that lovely warm, exotic fragrance that I always find so relaxing. I was really looking forward to trying this out on one of my pamper evenings. So I got a bonus pamper night on Thursday as my husband was out and I ran myself a lovely hot bath in readiness for this new ballistic. As with all ballistics the reaction of the sodium bicarbonate and the hot water produced a satisfying fizz. As the ball dissolved it darted around the bath and I could see the lumps of creamy cocoa butter floating on the surface of the water slowly melting. There wasn't that much of a fragrance though which I found quite disappointing. I hoped the fragrance would grow in the warmth of the water as the ylang ylang oil warmed but it was still pretty non existent. I noticed that the water had an oily film over it and as the water level changed as I slipped into the bath I noticed the distinct ring of scum which I had found annoying with so many other ballistics. I was on the verge of getting annoyed but I noticed that as the hot water rose over the line it began to melt into the water unlike some of the other products I have used. The bath wasn't going to need scrubbing again - result! The oiliness on the water coated my skin with a thin layer of melted cocoa butter and the water was repelled easily from then on. After 20 minutes or so I decided to get out of the bath as the lack of noticeable fragrance was making the bath a little uninteresting now. I also didn't want the water to cool too much in case there was a reintroduction of the oily scum ring around the bath. The only thing was that the bath itself was quite slippery from the cocoa butter - something which I only found out when I slipped trying to get out of the bath. Luckily I didn't hurt myself but it did give me one of those slow motion heart-in-the-mouth moments. I did need to spray the bath with a cleaning product and hot water to make it ready and safe to use again. Once out of the bath I could see the oil on my skin so I massaged the excess into my skin. Now on the one hand this is great moisturisation and yet my skin didn't really feel that clean. It was clean but it felt a bit clammy and even a couple of hours later as I was lounging around in my dressing gown when I touched my leg it still felt as if it had a residual layer of oil on it. The bottom of my hair didn't come out of the bath too well either. I don't usually but my head right into the water - the most that gets wet are the end. My hair was sticky and greasy and it didn't really dry properly for 4 or 5 hours. I also had to use two doses of shampoo the next day when I washed it to make the ends really clean. Unfortunately I can't even say "oh but my hair felt noticeably different" because it didn't. It just felt horrible for a few hours. But an interesting thing had happened. The fragrance which was so noticeable by its absence in the bath was now sitting quite nicely on my skin. It didn't last long and it was very subtle but it was there and there was enough to be commented upon by my husband. It's just a shame that the fragrance wasn't more prevalent in the bath because when you want to relax in the bath part of the experience is the fragrance especially when there aren't any bubbles to play with. For the next few days though my skin did feel nicely conditioned even after having a couple of showers so from that perspective I have to say that this is a nice product. You could almost call this a bath treatment for your body. Not something you would use very often but occasionally when your skin needs pampering rather than you as a person. I'm a bit undecided about this product. Initial impressions are not good - it doesn't have a strong fragrance, it makes the bath slippery, it doesn't make you feel refreshed or fresh but it does make your skin feel lovely and soft and beautifully conditioned for a few days. I wouldn't say I wouldn't buy it again because as a treatment it is good value. The only thing is I don't know that the hassle and disappointments that you get with the product make it worth it. If you want nicely conditioned skin there are other and easier ways to do it than sitting in a bath. And certainly if you are looking for a product that allows you to have a good long relaxing bath then there are far better alternatives out there.