Thursday, 27 November 2014

Just another Christmas Gift Guide...

Buying Christmas presents is actually one of my favourite things. I fill in my little spreadsheet (shut up, it’s not sad) and then flex my plastic and watch in excitement as packages arrive through the door. Then I get to wrap them and label them and give them out – it’s pretty much the best thing ever. And then I get presents too! Which I always kind of forget about, so it’s a total bonus.

Now I know you’ve seen a thousand gift guides already… but here’s another one, because I like writing gift guides, and maybe this is actually the only blog you read. But there are good ideas in here too!

I normally get my Dad books, or failing that jumpers. I think I might have stretched to new shirts last year. But I’m actually considering pushing the boat out and getting slippers this year – I KNOW. Creative. But these slippers from Crockett & Jones are super nice and look very comfy, and that works for me.

Navy Slippers

I used to find Mum so hard to buy for, but then I realised that she is pretty terrible at buying nice things for herself (she’s not bad at it, she just doesn’t do it) so it’s nice to get her jewellery or makeup or accessories. Scarves are always an excellent bet for Mums (and Grandmas, Aunts and in-laws) – how pretty is this one from House of Fraser? The good thing with scarves is that it’s totally acceptable to have a million, so buy them every year!

one | two | three | four

Small People
I quite like giving out things-to-do to my nieces and nephews. It keeps them entertained and allows the rest of the family to crack open the amaretto! My two nieces and three nephews range in age from 2 to 11 so there’s quite a lot of scope there, but here are a few of my favourite bits from Dotcomgiftshop:

Pretty Owls | Tea Set | Make Your Own T-Rex | Disguise | Rocket Playhouse

I know exactly what I’m getting my sister, but I can’t possibly put that here because I know she reads my blog! I’ve bought her boots for the last couple of years though (sorry Becky, not this year) – here are a few pairs I think she’d like. Or failing that, I like them…

one | two | three | four

I actually just tend to get presents for my brother’s kids rather than him, but I spotted the first of these books on his shelf recently. I noticed it as I’d actually just bought it as a gift for my Granny’s birthday, and now my Dad is reading it and raving about it. I haven’t actually read it myself! But books are always an excellent present, and the great thing with buying someone the first in a series is that you can buy the later books in the series as presents the next year!

one | two | three

Yeah, you guessed it – more books. I can totally spoil it here, as she doesn’t have the internet. I always buy Granny books. Even though she’s 98, she’s as sharp as a tack, and I love having awesome literature conversations with her. For her birthday, I got her the first in this series too on Ashleigh’s recommendation, and I know she really enjoyed it - so I’ve bought books 2 and 3. Easy peasy!

one | two | three

He also reads this blog, so I can’t tell you what I’ve actually got him (but it’s so good! I really want to!) but I’ve been scouring the emails from Not On The Highstreet and Etsy for inspiration and there’s LOADS. I also got him this book for his birthday a few months back, which is a great idea if you want your boyfriend to make you some booze. And I’m pretty sure you do. And he got me this book for MY birthday... and we have had more brunch since...

one | two

Best Friend
I don’t want to spoil things, but I have been spending lots of time looking at the gifts page on ASOS. So much cuteness! Excellent for Secret Santas, too:

one | two | three | four | five

How about you? Found any awesome websites I should be looking at?


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Reasons to be Cheerful #13

I'm a little sad that I got out of the habit of doing these posts. Putting them together really does cheer me up, and you guys have always said they do the same. Plus, it's an excuse to look at amazing food, nice clothes and pretty things. What's not to love?

Here are 7 things (for 7 days) for you to enjoy. I can't guarantee that number 3 will happen, but come on - it's England. We're pretty much guaranteed it, right?

Festive Baking
Maybe it's a bit early, maybe it is, but I'm already planning some amazing festive cooking. This is my latest obsession - it's a WREATH MADE OF FUDGE. I BLOODY KNOW. And it looks really easy, sort of like a Rocky Road with fudge instead of chocolate. Daaaamn.

I am so desperate for a good pamper at the moment. I haven't had my hair cut since July and it's impossible to do anything with, but I'm stubbornly holding out for a special occasion to really maximise that blowdry. We're heading up North in a couple of weeks, so I might track down a hairdressers in Manchester – there’s lots to choose from here!

Rainy Days
What's happened to me? I used to loathe the rain, and while I'm still not too fond of it when I get stuck in it without a brolly, there's something so comforting about listening to it outside whilst snuggled up in the warm. But I'm also becoming a fan of a good puddle splash - if I'm decked out in my trusty kagoul and wellies, then I'm a happy sausage. I need some new wellies though, and these cute ones from Butterfly Twists look like they'll fit my awkward calves, too!

Present Buying
God, I love buying presents. I love receiving them too, but that part is almost an afterthought for me at Christmas - it's the purchasing and hunting that I adore. I recently discovered George Pragnell which sells stunning antique and period jewellery, they have some lovely pieces that I know the ladies in my life would like... including me!

Getting Away
Have you seen the Eurostar sale? £59 return! I am so tempted to book a minibreak for February to Paris... for less than it costs to get to Scotland, it's got to be worth it, right?

A Good Book
I'm rediscovering my love of reading at the moment and it's pretty awesome. I just finished Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater and adored it. It's the third in the Raven Quartet - please read them. You'll be happy you did.

Amy Poehler
This is why I love Amy Poehler:

And this:

And this is her author's photo for her book:

She's incredible.


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Pressure Cooker Smoky BBQ Ribs

When I was a kid, my mum absolutely adored her pressure cooker. It was constantly on the hob, hissing away – she seemed to use it for everything. I was never really sure what the difference between that and a normal saucepan was, though, and it was only when the nice people at Tower offered to send me a pressure cooker of my very own that I realised I still wasn’t sure on the difference.

In a nutshell, it’s kind of like the opposite of a slow cooker. A fast cooker, if you will. The lid is sealed on tightly with a rubber seal, and it cooks the food much quicker than in any other way because there’s so much pressure in there. You have to use more water than you would in anything else to ensure that it generates enough steam to cook properly, but in general it's very simple to use. And food cooks so quick!

I debated what to cook with my new pressure cooker, but then I found a recipe for ribs and I was all like 'Dude, let's cook some ribs.'

So we cooked some ribs.

Pressure Cooker Smoky BBQ Ribs
Ribs (we used two packets that were about 0.8kg each)
A bottle of your favourite BBQ sauce (we used Jack Daniels)
Spices to rub the ribs with (we used Great British Butcher British BBQ Rub but you can use whatever you want)
200ml of water

1. Rub dem ribs all over with your spice rub

2. Heat up your pressure cooker, add a splash of oil and throw the ribs in, a few at a time, to brown them on both sides. They need a couple of minutes each - don't stress too much about them being 'done', as they'll cook through in a bit.

3. When all the ribs are done, pop them all back in the pressure cooker.

4. Over them, pour a whole bottle of BBQ sauce and 200ml of water.

5. Pop the lid of the pressure cooker on, seal it and cook on a high heat for 15-18 minutes.

6. Apparently the pressure gauge on top should pop up when it's done but I couldn't see any difference, so instead I carefully released the steam a bit at a time by pushing the lock of the lid to open. Once it's all released, it opens quite easily.

7. Remove all the ribs with some tongs, then cook the sauce on high for 5-10 minutes to thicken it. I recommend adding a paste of cornflour to help this along.

8. Serve with chips and coleslaw, then pour that nice thick barbeque sauce over the top.

My verdict? The pressure cooker was easy to use but I must admit the instructions were hard to follow. I'm still not sure we did it completely right, and the instructions mentioned things like setting the hook to our chosen cooking method, with no information about how to distinguish that! The ribs were very tasty though, and I loved how efficient it was, so that I could use one pan to brown the meat and to thicken the sauce.

You can read more about pressure cookers on the Tower Housewares blog!

I also have to mention the rub we used. Great British Butcher Giftboxes got in touch with me and asked if I wanted to try out their rubs which are available to buy on Not On The High Street - they'd be a great gift for a cooking fan! They smelt amazing and gave everything a lovely flavour, but I really want to try some of the others now, like the Bloody Mary Rub. They're also all vegetarian, so you could spice up some tofu. Or some halloumi. Ooooh. With the Bloody Mary Rub? Yes. Check them out - if you buy them as a gift for someone for Christmas, they might cook for you! DOUBLE WIN.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Swimwear season

It's far from swimwear season, and as excited as I am about Christmas and all associated festive wonders, I find myself looking at summery clothes and daydreaming about the sunshine.

In the hope that I'll be bikini ready by the summer (not likely if I don't lay off the pizzas...) I'm bookmarking the heidi klein bikini range. So much pretty.

Apparently Cheryl Cole (or whatever her name is these days) and Nicole Scherzinger are fans of the range too - I can see why :)

Where are you going on your holidays next year?


Saturday, 15 November 2014

Korean Barbeque Beef with Kale

We developed a bit of a habit when the Great British Bake Off was on TV. I’d go round to Matt’s after work and we’d cook something yummy – usually that I’d spied on Pinterest or Twitter – then we’d finish cooking just about in time to eat it in front of the TV. It was a good way to avoid watching GBBO and wanting to run to the shop for cakes, and it also gave me a chance to try out some of the recipes I’ve been eyeing. Like this one!

When I found this Korean Beef recipe, it looked so simple, I had to try it. And it really was – incredibly quick to make, and very tasty. We made it just as the recipe said, served with rice and spring onions. Tasty - but I felt like it was missing something. A bit of crunch, some vegetables to bulk it out, that kind of thing. So this is version 2, with additions. It’s so much better. For a start, it goes so much further than version 1. Version 1 would be great if you were making an Asian feast, with various dishes, but on its own, not so much. It only made 3 courses – this made 6 (although if you're really hungry, I won't judge you if it only goes 4 ways). Oh, and we switched the rice for noodles. Noodles > rice, every time.

Korean BBQ Beef Noodles 
(adapted from here)

65g dark brown sugar
60ml soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground ginger
500g beef mince (I used extra lean)
3 cloves garlic
2 spring onions
4-6 mushrooms
Frylight or Vegetable Oil
Two handfuls of beansprouts
6 portions noodles (I used three packets of Blue Dragon Udon Noodles)

Serves 4-6

1. In a small bowl, add brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger and cayenne and stir.

2. This cooks quickly so get everything ready first. Chop your mushrooms and spring onions, and crush your garlic.
3. In a non-stick frying pan or wok, cook your garlic for about a minute.

4. Add the beef mince and the mushrooms, and cook until the beef is done, about 3-5 minutes.
5. Drain excess fat, then add the beansprouts and the spring onions, and give everything a good stir.

6. Pour in the sauce you mixed together earlier, and stir until everything is nicely coated.

7. Add the noodles, stir and let everything mix together and let the sauce absorb into the noodles.

8. Pop a lid on if you have one, and cook for 3-5 minutes and it's ready to go!

We also made this Korean Kale as a side dish. The recipe originally said to use spinach, but we had some kale wilting in the fridge, so kale it was. So good!

Korean Greens 
(adapted from here)

1 bag Kale or Spinach
2 cloves crushed garlic
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
Boiling water

1. Mix garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil in a saucepan (with the heat off).
2. Chop your greens into strips if you fancy.
3. Add the greens to a large bowl or pan, then pour boiling water over them.

4. After 30 seconds, drain the pan into a colander and rinse the greens in cold water.

5. Squeeze the greens gently to get the water out.

6. Turn on the saucepan containing the sauce, then add the greens to the sauce and coat in the sauce.

7. Cook for a couple of minutes until wilted. (Note: If using spinach, you may not need to heat it up, but kale needed this step.)

8. Transfer to your plate and serve with your BBQ Noodles!

If you reheat the beef on a second day, I highly recommend making up another portion of the sauce for an extra flavour oomph. It takes minutes. And it's tasty.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Cocktail Hour: Gin, Apple & Pomegranate Fizz

When I was a little girl, my mum would often take me shopping with her on a Saturday morning. I never minded too much, because shopping is the best, but as a reward for being good, she’d always take me for tea and cake afterwards. The cake tended to be a cookie the size of my face, and as for the tea – well, I’ve never been a fan, so I’d always request an Appletiser instead. Apple juice was always a bit of a treat – although it’s not expensive, when you have a child who is more than capable of polishing off a family-size carton in a day, it kind of had to be a luxury.

Even though I’m a grown-up now and can buy all the apple based drinks I want, I’ve still always thought of Appletiser as a treat. I don’t think I’m the only one, as they sent me their new Pomegranate & Apple flavour to try out in the poshest box imaginable! And, in the spirit of being a grown-up now… I added gin to it.

Appletiser DID actually ask me to think of some cocktails to make up with this drink, so I have an excuse for the gin! It’s a really tasty drink, by the way – we tried it with and without booze, and it’s refreshing and fruity and lovely. Technically this isn’t really a cocktail at all as it’s only two ingredients (apparently the rule is that a cocktail has to have three) but it was super tasty. Next time, I’d like to try topping it up with Prosecco – yum, right?