Monday, 31 December 2012

New Years Eve drink nibbles


Cheese and anchovy palmiers

We were planning for the first time in years to have New Year's Eve just the two of us. It's a least favourite celebration as really it's just the end of the holidays with another year stretching out ahead.

I know this sounds really 'bah humbug' and I do feel batteries are charged and I am well prepared to face anything with a positive attitude but, well let's face it, it's really more of the same old, same old with a few highlights thrown in to keep us all going. I have a lot to be grateful for I do get that, a job I love and great people to work with. A family I adore - yes I don't think that's too strong a word to use. Great, loyal and supportive friends who make me laugh. A husband who is right there at my side to appreciate the good, bad and indifferent. So I am lucky and am happy, but you still won't convince me that New Year is little more than an anticlimax followed by a hangover.

But a few of the aforementioned friends were getting together to ring in the new just up the road from where we live so it looks like our 'Johnnie No Mates New Year' is to be put back in the box for another time.

Having come to the party list late we were asked to bring some exciting nibbles to go with pre-dinner drinks. Now we've all endured the Iceland Christmas advert with piles of prepared nibbles that in reality, whether you buy them from Iceland, Morrisons, Waitrose or M&S, are never the same as they look in the picture. And are certainly not a patch on those you make yourself. So this is on my menu to keep my friends happy before the main event... I would have gone mad with some seafood and pork but having Jewish friends in the mix decided to go for things everyone will be able to eat and hopefully enjoy.

Tiny Yorkshire puddings with roast beef and horseradish sauce.
150g plain flour
150ml semi-skimmed milk
2 medium eggs
1 rib steak (enough to carve 16 small pieces of steak)
horseradish sauce
creme fraiche

Beat the milk and eggs together then add flour and beat to remove all lumps. Heat up a small tart tin with a teaspoon of oil in each section then when it is not quite smoking put in a soupspoon full of the batter mixure. Cook until risen and golden. Allow to cool on wire tray. Fry the steak to the required level of cooking (rare, medium etc) then slice into really small wafer thin pieces. Mix up a small amount of horseradish sauce and creme fraiche. Make a slit in the cold Yorkshire pudding and fill with creme fraiche mixture. Garnish with a piece of beef steak.

Tomato and goat's cheese bruschetta.
1 thin french bread baguette sliced into small slices
olive oil
crushed garlic clove
2 firm medium tomatoes
Soft goats cheese
Pesto

Mix up olive and garlic and brush onto small slices of french bread. Cook in the oven (180 degrees) for around 25 mins but make sure they don't burn. Allow to cool and put in an airtight container. When ready to serve, soak tomatoes in boiling water for 5 mins then remove skins and pips. Cut into tiny pieces. Spread thin layer of pesto onto bread followed by a thin layer of goats cheese. Garnish with chopped tomato and decorate with fresh basil leaves, salt and pepper.

Palmiers with anchovies and cheese.
1 pack puff pastry
jar anchovies
strong cheddar cheese (grated)
black olives

Cover 2/3 of pastry with grated cheese and fold in the final third and then the cheese covered third again. Roll out into a square, cover with tiny pieces of anchovy and chopped black olive and fold both sides into the corner. With a sharp knife slice into thin slices and cook in a hot oven for around 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Serve with cocktails, champagne and love.




Sunday, 30 December 2012

Carrot and butterbean soup

This is the perfect antidote to all the overeating - a homemade soup that is good for you, low in fat, has a bit of carb and fibre, is incredibly cheap to prepare and will fill you up. Serve with crusty bread.

Carrot and butterbean soup
Enough for four people.

About 500g carrots peeled and chopped
Small tin tomatoes
1pint chicken stock
2x400g good quality butterbeans
1 onion chopped
olive oil
1 small sweet potato diced(optional)

Fry onion until soft in olive oil. Add all the other ingredients except the butterbeans. Cook until soft and then either mash (I have done this as I like a chunkier soup) or liquidise. Rinse the tinned butterbeans then add along with pepper to taste. Warm through and serve. Delicious!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Fitbit Ultra - losing that Christmas weight

Fitbit Ultra activity and sleep tracker

Like most of the UK I have over-indulged. Thankfully we didn't cook the main Christmas lunch event so didn't have all those left-overs, but we still have a fridge full of nibbles. Cheeses are the most difficult to resist, especially when teamed with slices of Christmas cake. So I know I will have put on weight and will have to do something about it.

Luckily a very good friend bought me a Fitbit Ultra to get me on my way and having downloaded it all I am a bit obsessed.

You wear it clipped to your belt or bra and it shows you all the activities you have done that day, how many calories you've burnt, how many you've eaten (and of course this is a huge disconnect for me) and sets you goals in terms of diet and activity.

It also tells you how good your sleep has been and how many calories you've burnt while doing it - which is quite encouraging.

You do have to be a bit obsessive to work it properly but once you have loaded in all your regular foods it's easy to log - and I've downloaded their app onto my phone too so can update on the go!

I will let you know how I get on. A stone by Easter? Well with this you never know as it does make you aware if you just haven't done enough that day...

I aim to walk instead of drive to the tube and use the loo at the top of the house - well it's definitely a start!
Will let you know how I get on.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Shaggy coat story - Mongolian Coat


Ecote Mongolian Coat from Urban Outfitters, £145
I want to tell you a shaggy coat story... I have, since I was a young girl, always wanted a Mongolian Coat. It's my inner hippy coming out I know but they are soft, and warm and I think pretty darn stylish. And you can wear them if you are 15 or 50 and they will still look good. I never have had one but this Spring maybe, just maybe, I will treat myself, or put it on my birthday present list.

This one (featured above) from Urban Outfitters is just the right length and a very reasonable price. Okay it's faux Mongolian Sheepskin but that makes it much easier to maintain and will never smell of wet dog - oh and of course it means I can afford it.



Monday, 17 December 2012

Red cabbage recipe for Christmas

Christmas Red Cabbage before the oven


I spent the weekend like most people doing Christmassy things. Some I hate and see as a huge chore, like wrapping presents which I put on a parr with putting away the weekly shop, and others which I love like feeding the Christmas cake brandy and making my red cabbage for Christmas day and any other meal over the holiday.

This is incredibly simple to make and really cheap but tastes of Christmas and is an essential side-dish to turkey. Because it is a slight mix of sweet and sour (apples, onions and cabbage) with spices like cloves and cinnamon it is Christmas in one dish really.

Made beforehand, left in the fridge overnight then bagged up to serve when needed I haven't had a Christmas without it in years.

Based on a recipe for red cabbage and apples by Delia Smith my recipe has

1 onion diced
2 cooking apples peeled, cored and chopped
1 medium sized red cabbage
1 sliced clove of garlic
a pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 cloves (whole)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
slosh of red wine if available
bits of butter on the top
salt and pepper

Prepare all the ingredients in a large casserole dish with a lid. Add in all the seasonings, vinegar etc and stir. Put in an oven heated to 150 degrees and cook for around 2 hours until soft. Take out and leave to cool then leave over night in the fridge before either heating through thoroughly and eating or freezing.

Et voila!
The finished cooked red cabbage




Saturday, 15 December 2012

Hot Cross Loaf - it's good and it aint even Easter

Completely out of season but I bought this to make toast with and I must say I really rather like it. Not overstuffed with fruit but full of cinnamon and spices, the Hot Cross Loaf currently (I know weirdly really) at Asda is delicious. Especially when toasted and served with slices of mouth-itchingly strong Cheddar. And at just 70p it's worth a punt. I find some fruit loaves just too fruity and heavy but this is light and just like a Hot Cross Bun - and it even comes complete with the cross. Look out for it in the bakery aisle.

Hot Cross Loaf, 70p, Asda

Friday, 14 December 2012

Hotel Chocolat - gifts that are not just for girls



Some very good friends came to dinner last weekend and they bought me a real treat knowing I love chocolate and chilli in equal measure. These Chilli Penguins from Hotel Chocolat make the perfect gift and stocking filler - I certainly wouldn't turn my nose up at a second box! They are 70% dark chocolate so you won't want to eat loads (and that is why I still have some left) and are a modest £6.50.

Looking at their site to write this post I was also rather taken by this Rather Large Christmas Cracker which contains 40 chocolates and 12 party hats and jokes all for £38 which for this quality of chocolate and the novelty alone is well worth the spend.


There is also an amazing Festive Wreath with cookies, caramel and 50% milk chocolate which you definitely won't want to hang outside... It's hand-made, is £20 and serves 8 as an after-dinner dessert - another fantastic talking point or a brilliant gift to take to friends...






Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Fashion Focus on Fenwick


Big department stores will never go out of fashion but they know they need to reinvent themselves regularly. Just look at Harvey Nichols and Selfridges who can claim to be taking on the big boys of New York and Hong Kong and winning!

We have Fenwick at Brent Cross and it comes under the same bag as John Lewis really - you don't pay it much attention but you'd miss it if it weren't there. It's a shame they are only just starting to wake up to the fact that customers want an environment that is a bit special to shop in (well done to John Lewis Oxford Street here for their amazing new beauty hall). I must admit Fenwick at Bond Street is worth a browse but it's still not beautiful in terms of the store. It all still feels a bit 1990's on the shop floor even though the product in both these stores is fantastic!

I checked out Fenwick online and was really impressed so if you don't have a store local to you then you need not miss out. Here are some of my favourites.

Marcus Lupfer at Fenwick
Owl T-shirt by Marcus Lupfer, £149
Stella McCartney at Fenwick
Animal print body by Stella McCartney, £65
Richard Nicholl at Fenwick
Loose silk panel dress by Richard Nicholl, £425
I Love My Tees at Fenwick
Tiger head sweater by I Love My Tees, £139
Pyrus at Fenwick
Aviator Jacket by Pyrus, £309

Tai at Fenwick
Vintage teardrop earring from Tai, £69














Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Clinique Moisture Surge Overnight Mask review

Apologies for the flash but it was late at night!

Lisa Snowden was moaning on Capital Radio this morning that her skin was too small for her face - and I know exactly how she feels. This isn't in a good way - ironing out wrinkles, oh no, this is tight cold air and indoor heating damaged skin. With chapped lips to boot. I, and so many others, are experiencing exactly that.

The lovely ladies at Clinique, however, have come to my rescue but sending me a tube of Clinique Moisture Surge Overnight Mask (which will be on sale from January 1 2013)  and I used it over the weekend to really great results.

This is a lovely masque as you just put it on instead of night-cream and go to bed. No putting it on, waiting, removing and then applying moisturiser. The cream formula contains moisure-locking hyaluronic acid and creates an invisible moisture 'mesh' that helps keep skin hydrated. This is a product for the terminally lazy in terms of a last thing at night  beauty regime. My skin didn't feel greasy, it smells lovely and I awoke to definitely smoother, less tight feeling, normal skin. It's allergy tested, 100% fragrance and oil free and is priced at £28. Highly recommended!




Monday, 10 December 2012

Kew Gardens free entry offer over Christmas

Photo from askamum.co.uk

I never, ever, ever simply cut and paste press releases - pretty poor form I always think. But I am going to make an exception here as I want to get this message out as it's such an amazing offer. We never get anything free but Kew Gardens are giving free entry - yes free entry over the 12 days of Christmas... and here are the details!
On the First Day of Christmas My True Love Said to Me: I Hear You Can Get Into Kew Gardens Completely Free!
FREE ENTRY to Kew Gardens during the Festive Season!
As an amazing year for London draws to a close, and in the spirit of celebration and festivity, Kew Gardens is offering an extraordinary gift to visitors: free entry for 12 whole days during Christmas!
Simply book your tickets online for free entry during the 12 days of Christmas - 22 December 2012 to 4 January 2013. Online booking opens on 17 December 2012 (www.kew.org).
There are festive delights galore this winter at Kew, so no one needs to stay cooped up indoors watching re runs of Father Ted! Walk off the mince pies with our enchanting winter tree tours, which explore Kew’s beautiful and diverse collection of evergreens and conifers. Bring the kids to meet Santa in his grotto, and then from Boxing Day onwards they can enjoy magical storytelling sessions featuring shadow puppetry. Take a ride on our vintage carousel and then warm up in the Orangery with our delicious seasonal menu, where you can get into the festive spirit with Christmas carols performed by local choirs. Finally, top off a perfect day with a spot of retail therapy at Victoria Plaza, where you can pick up a bargain from 21 December in our up to 50% off sale!
During your visit make sure to catch the acclaimed David Nash: A Natural Gallery exhibition. See his spectacular sculptures nestling in Kew’s wonderful winter landscape. Looking to escape the cold? Then check out his indoor works in the Temperate House, Nash Conservatory, and Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. 
Be sure to stop by the Winter Garden, where you can enjoy the heady scents of witch hazels and take a look inside the 18th-century Ice-House. Nearby in the Rock Garden, a wide range of delicate snow drops brave the chilly weather. The frost laced Grass Garden also looks spectacular on a crisp, clear winter’s day. See Holly Walk burst into life, with red berries adorning this historic collection of trees, some of which are over 130 years old.
No visit would be complete without climbing to the top of the Treetop Walkway to enjoy sweeping views across the frosty Gardens and London’s stunning skyline.
Terms and conditions:
1. Offer redeemable by booking a free ticket prior to visit at kew.org
2. Tickets valid between 22 December 2012 and 4 January 2013
3. 9,000 free tickets available each day the Gardens are open.
4. Kew Gardens are closed on 24 and 25 December
5. For full terms and conditions, visit www.kew.org
What they can't guarantee is the snow!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Havaianas Wellington Boots a must for Winter

Havianas wellington boots in gorgeous pink

Is it or isn't it going to snow? Either way new wellies are always welcome in my wardrobe and anyone who knows how much I love Havaianas will know that these little beauties have my name written all over them. In an assortment of colours they come in tall (shown here) for £45 and short for £40. Check out Havaianas for further information and to order while the post can still get here.

Read more about Havaianas turning 50 and customised Havaianas.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Molton Brown Frequent Traveller Gift Set Review




Molton Brown Frequent Traveller Collection 
Here is another fine product from Molton Brown which I found in the recent goody bag I picked up at their event recently. I (along with millions of others) do think that men in particular are difficult to buy for - this doesn't improve the older they get believe me! So a man (or woman) who travels a lot will find this Frequent Traveller collection a real treat I'm sure. I also think it's brilliant value for money.

It has all be carefully thought out for those who travel. The six piece collection is for body, skin and senses - so perfect for reviving you when tired. Concentrated plant and mineral actives and high-impact aroma oils including cempaka leaf oil, ardeche ambrusca grapeleaf, chinese yean shi extract and malachite all helps to refresh, hydrate and sooth at every stage of a trip. Every single product smelt delicious and was easily absorbed into the skin. I love these products because of the high quality of the essential oils at a great price - so the scents linger and your skin feels amazingly soft after using them.

These sets come in a variety of contents and this one contains the following

1 clear travel bag
1 Warming Eucalyptus bath and Shower 100ml
1 Ultrasmooth Coco de Mer Body Lotion 100ml (this smells gorgeous)
1 Relaxing Yyan Zhi Mist 30ml (another lovely scent here)
1 Skinboost 24hr Moisture Mist 10ml (particularly good after long-haul)

And all for £40 which I think is a pretty good price as Molton Brown products go a long way. Here is another Molton Brown review of the Mahina fragrance due out in January and which I am addicted to!




Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Shopping in Leeds - a few pictures for inspiration

I had a wonderful weekend with a flying visit to Sheffield and a bit longer wandering Leeds. Both fantastic cities, Leeds is looking pretty for Christmas and is worth a look if you are in the area, it has some of the greatest shopping outlets in England including Harvey Nichols and Vivienne Westwood. So I got some much needed Christmas shopping done as well...

Outside The Cruicible, Sheffield

Leeds, old and new

Hog Roast, Leeds City Centre

Bauble Christmas Tree, Leeds
Christmas glitter in Leeds

Monday, 3 December 2012

Luscombe of Devon - fruit juices for Christmas and beyond


I have just discovered a drink I would happily swap for a glass of wine - and that is saying something! This Luscombe sparkling Elderflower is simply delicious and I ordered it in a restaurant in Sheffield at the weekend and must say I am now going to order a lot more online for Christmas.

The company are based in Devon by a family owned business headed up by Gabriel David and the ingredients come direct from growers he trusts. They have been making juices since 1975 so I am amazed I haven't tried them before - have obviously not been looking in the right place.

I am really tempted by their apples blends and their Raspberry Lemonade which sounds delicious!

They have a Soil Association Organic certificate and you won't find any of their drinks being ruined by processing. Additives are never used as they don't use concentrates, artificial flavourings or colours - just natural flavours. Hand-make in small batches each batch has subtle variations - just like wine really, due to seasons and weather conditions. So there are no acidity regulators, artificial sweetners, animal by-products, pesticide residues or anything else you wouldn't want to be drinking.

This is going to make a booze-free January so much easier!


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