Friday, 30 November 2012

Sweet Treats: Cherry & coconut Florentines

With Christmas on its way and plenty of time on my hands, I’ve been looking to practise baking a number of festive delights. Thanks to the lovely Vicky, I was recommended the BBC Good Food app for iPhone. Even better was that it’s free (although I did buy the festive cookbook for £1.49). There are so many lovely recipes I would love to master and to begin, I made Florentines for the first time.
For an initial attempt, I suppose they weren’t bad. I didn’t have a big enough tin though, so they were a bit on the chunky side – I think this meant the texture wasn’t as it was meant to be, but then, not baking or eating them before, I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t have a star cutter to hand either, so cut out circles to look like Christmas baubles.

The recipe says to make 24, I made 18.

140g light muscovado sugar
100g clear honey
200g salted butter
100g desiccated coconut
140g flaked almonds (I used 100g)
300g glace cherries (I used 200g)
4tbsp plain flour
250g chocolate (I used 125g of both dark and white varieties)

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6.
Put the sugar, honey and butter in a pan and gently melt.
Slice the cherries and stir in with the coconut, almonds and flour.
Line a baking tray (40cm x 30cm) with greaseproof paper and roughly spread the mixture out to a thin layer. I found using a wet spatula the easiest method, as the mixture is sticky.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the mixture is golden brown in colour. Set aside to cool and firm up.
Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie.
Line a second tray (same size) or chopping board with greaseproof paper and carefully flip the baked Florentine mixture onto it.
Spread the chocolate over and leave to set.
Once ready, stamp out the shapes, or alternatively slice into squares.

Happy baking!

I’ve since decided if making again, I’d like each Florentine to be marbled, as it definitely looks a lot prettier than just one single colour. Little stars would work well. Or you could even, stamp out the shapes first and then dip them in chocolate!


Monday, 26 November 2012

Health: Living with PCOS (part one)

One in ten women suffers from PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). With figures this high, you would expect it to be spoken about more than it is and accepted in today’s modern day society. Yet is isn’t. Before I was diagnosed, I had never even heard of it, which maybe is one of the reasons people generally don’t understand what it’s about. It’s also the reason why I have never spoken about it before – obviously it isn’t something you just casually bring up in conversation, but I’ve never told my friends or boyfriends. My parents and the doctors are the only ones to know. I guess this is just me telling my story and saying sufferers should be more open – because it isn’t something you can go through on your own.
For those of you that aren’t aware, there a number of symptoms and sufferers will have one or more of them. Cases vary from person to person: in the mildest cases one or two symptoms will be present and in the worst case scenario, someone could suffer with all of them. Some of the symptoms can be seen just by looking at someone, but others aren’t so obvious – the condition can also affect you mentally and emotionally. I was 17 when I was diagnosed and the last five years have been a rollercoaster.
The fact that the syndrome is so common should be the reason it is spoken about more. Obviously some of the symptoms are embarrassing to sufferers and want to make them hide away and not talk about it but I’ve come to the conclusion, I’m not ashamed of having the condition. Why should we suffer in silence? Yes, it does make me feel different and there are days I think “why me?” and I feel miserable, but there is no real cause of the condition and as it is a life-long thing with no cure at present, I feel like I just have to get on with life the best I can, and pretend, I suppose, I don’t have it. I’ve also had my fair share of abuse from people, which makes it more difficult, but the best thing to do is ignore it – those people that think it’s right to mock or belittle are ignorant and obviously not mature enough to cope with or understand the effects of the condition on someone.
I think about it a lot. 1/10 is a lot when you come to think about it. One day when I was at University, I was sat in my lecture hall. The majority of people on my course were girls, I’d hazard a guess at 30-odd. This would mean at least two others would suffer with PCOS. Obviously I wouldn’t know looking at them, the same way I guess they’d not know I have it. At football, too, there must be at least one other woman with the condition. And just think about being at a big venue for a concert, like the O2 – the amount of women there who also suffer. It’s pretty staggering really.
I will always remember they day in which I first thought I must have PCOS. I’d watched one of those awful programmes on TV in which members of the public talk about their aches, pains and complaints. It turned out a girl on there had a really bad case of PCOS – by which, I mean a million times worse than me. I then did the bad thing and Googled the condition. Never a good idea. I went to bed that night wondering what I was going to do – do I tell someone? Do I pretend I never saw the programme or read what I had on the internet? The fact there was no cure wasn’t going to change anything either, it wasn’t like I’d wake up the next morning and be fine, or cured after a dose of tablets. The following day I was only at Sixth Form in the morning, when my dad picked me up before lunchtime, I was really quiet. The more I thought about it at home, the worse it got and eventually I cried loads. When my dad asked what was wrong, I didn’t want to say anything – it was a really hard thing to bring up. Eventually I did explain and although he said I was being silly and probably overreacting, I made an appointment with my GP. I guess looking back I’m glad I said something – having PCOS is not really something you can go through on your own, and having support from those nearest you will make it that little bit more bearable.
After an appointment with my GP a number of blood tests later (which still haven’t helped me overcome my fear of needles – I don’t think anything ever will!), I was referred to an endocrinologist. It wasn’t until an ultrasound that I was properly diagnosed. That wasn’t a very fun experience, either. It wasn’t one of those ones they do for pregnancy, which I was quite looking forward to – they rammed a camera on a stick in me (even thinking about it makes me feel a bit ill) and rummaged around for a good couple of minutes to get a clearer picture. Yep, I had PCOS, on my right ovary. Wonderful. It was the summer of 2007 and if the following year wasn’t stressful enough: A Levels and University applications coming up, the ups and downs of friendships and relationships, it was about to get a million times worse...

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Sweet Treats: Snickerdoodle cookies

These totally delectable cookies came to my attention through one of my foodie Twitter followers. I’d never heard of the recipe or indeed ‘snickerdoodle’ before, but I thought I’d give them a go, as they sounded a bit different to your average cookie and it was a boring Friday afternoon – I was in need of something to bake. I have baked them a couple of times since; they’re so easy and incredibly moreish!
Snickerdoodles are similar to ‘sugar cookies’ but are coated in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon – making the surface crack, while the texture is crisp on the outside and chewy inside.
The recipe doesn’t state how many to make, but generally, I split the dough equally into 32. After having a look at different recipes on the internet, I’ve noticed you can make them flat like a cookie, but I choose to make ball-sized portions, which kind of look like the German classic: Lebkusen. Of course it’s a case of whatever you think is best.

60g butter
160g caster sugar
Couple of drops vanilla essence
1 egg
275g plain flour
¾ tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp cinnamon
To coat:
1 ½ tbs caster sugar
1 tbs cinnamon

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla essence in a bowl
Add the egg and mix
Sift in the dry ingredients (flour, tartar, bicarb and cinnamon)
Once turned to a soft dough, cover and leave in the fridge for 45 minutes
Make balls of an equal size and coat in the caster sugar/cinnamon mixture, before adding to a baking tray (lined with greaseproof paper)
Place in the oven (gas mark 4) and bake for 20 minutes, checking after 15
Coat again if necessary
Leave to cool

Happy baking! 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Favourite Five: Perfumes

Coco Chanel once said: “A woman who doesn't wear perfume has no future”. I thought I’d share some of my favourite perfumes and the occasions they are best suited to. I found it hard to be honest, as I love perfume – I always buy a bottle when I’m at Duty Free and it’s probably the easiest thing to buy me for Christmas or my birthday (if you know what I like, or ask me first). I’m also a lover of pretty or decorative bottles – something a bit different!

Day-to-day basis
For a general daily wear, my favourite has to be Be Delicious by DKNY.
What they say: This juicy fragrance celebrates individuality in a refreshing manner - just like New York City - by combining the scent of apple with a sophisticated blend of exotic flowers and sensual woods”
If I’ve got a busy day, I love my perfume to last. I mean there’s nothing worse than having to keep whipping your bottle out of your bag to reapply constantly throughout the day. Be Delicious is a long-lasting scent which smells fresh and fruity. What isn’t there to like?
Girls’ night out (or in!)
A friend at Uni used to wear Ralph by Ralph Lauren.
She would always carry it in her clutch when we went out in the evenings – whether it was to the Student Union bar, or for drinks in the local Wetherspoons, or the city. I think for this reason, it’s a perfect choice for a night out with friends. I remember the whole toilet routine: the sharing of the cubicle, the adding of bronzer, adjusting our lashes and getting the gloss out before dousing ourselves in perfume. It’s what I’d call a fun scent.
What they say: “Ralph Lauren Ralph captures the energy, spirit and personality of today's young woman with a colourful, floral fragrance”
Hot date
If you’re stuck for a fragrance to impress that new man with, one of my personal favourites is Cerruti’s Cerruti 1881.
What they say: “For a confident woman with a free spirit, seductive with the promise of hidden sensuality”
Cerruti 1881 reminds me so much of my teenage years – between the ages of 15 and 17, it was probably my favourite fragrance. If I could bottle up that time in my life, this perfume would undoubtedly sum it up. It was one I wore on many a date because of its floral tones, which make it very feminine yet sophisticated.
Romantic meal
You’ve got a gorgeous romantic meal planned and need a fragrance to match the occasion – Desire Me by Escada is a perfect choice.
From looking at the bottle alone, you know this fragrance is going to be provocative, sensual and mysterious. I’m a big fan of Escada (as you’ll see further down!) and when I was bought this for Christmas a couple of years back, I was addicted. It’s so different from their summer range, but I guess it’s aimed at a slightly different market. It’s absolutely gorgeous: warm, inviting and oozes class – and my boyfriend loves it too; result!
What they say: “Inside its shining gold bottle you'll find a powerful enchanting scent inspired by the uncontrollable desire a woman can provoke in a man with a single look”
Summertime (or when you have those holiday blues!)
Like I said, I’m a big fan of Escada, and their Rockin Rio for epitomises the summer.
That fruity smell which reminds you of cocktails by the beach alongside the bottle with its pinks, yellows and oranges just makes you want to be sunbathing poolside. It’s one that I love to wear all-year round because in those autumnal months, it reminds you of that perfect holiday and in spring, it gives you that hope you’ll be leaving the country shortly for that much needed break! It’s a playful and flirtatious scent which has recently been brought back to the market!
What they say: “A fruity floral scent, Rockin Rio is a young, overdosed fragrance – like a piña colada cocktail in a bottle. The combination of tropical coconut and pineapple adds a sweet yet fresh and fruity character while driving its uniqueness”

And I’ll leave you with my current favourite: Dot by Marc Jacobs.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Beauty: what’s in my makeup bag

I would definitely say when it comes to spending money, makeup is one of, if not, my biggest weakness. There are times I go into Boots to buy necessary staples like cotton buds or face wipes and end up with a couple of bits – or worse, spend £40 odd, when really I was planning on spending a fiver. It’s just that I can never find that perfect foundation and I’m always keen to try out something new, in the hope it might become my new favourite brand. I think I’m addicted!
Obviously, I have a drawer dedicated to odds and ends, but here’s what’s currently in my makeup bag:

I’ve always used two different foundations, I think I read about it in a magazine, or a friend suggested it and it’s always stuck. I think it’s because generally foundations either make you look paler or darker than you really are – it’s either end of that spectrum and never in the middle, or just right. I’m currently using Rimmel’s Lasting Finish in soft beige Maybelline’s Superstay in sand. Both promise to last all day (24 and 25 hours respectively) and both give an even coverage for that flawless look. And because I use both, they last twice as long! I used to be a big fan of Dream Matte Mousse but because of the texture, it didn’t last very long. I also found that once the air had got to it, it ended up oxidising and not being as smooth once applied. I much prefer using pump bottles now and I find I never use as much, because they’re more controlled.
I absolutely love the Models Own brand and decided to try their bronzer after a recommendation from a friend (who similarly got me addicted to their nail varnishes). I made the mistake of buying natural bronze as opposed to the sun goddess shade though and even though I often apply layer upon layer of bronzer, even the thinnest dusting makes me look as if I’ve been tangoed. I didn’t really want to throw it away though, so currently mix it with my other bronzer – Rimmel’s Match Perfection (in light) – with good results, as the Rimmel bronzer is considerably lighter and using it on its own, my skin doesn’t always look bronzed. When I get bored, I may just mix it with moisturiser and hope it doesn’t come out too orange! I’m still in the search of a perfect bronzer though, if anyone has any suggestions?
I have always used Maybelline mascaras because of their different shaped wands that always help to create the look you’re going for: sultry, dramatic, fierce... This Barry M mascara was free because I spent £8 online at Boots (more nail varnishes!). Not only is it waterproof, but it makes lashes look longer and thicker – I’ve even had people ask what fake lashes I use when I’ve worn it! The only problem with it is that’s it’s a nightmare to remove, even with makeup remover or pads, I can still feel clumps on the end of my lashes. I’m sure I’d buy it again though – that is, if I stray from Maybelline.
Brushes and sponges
I normally just buy my sponges from Boots as there’s usually a good selection to choose from. I used to opt for the wedges but recently have converted to the soft flat sponges. For me, the wedges don’t last very long and absorb too much makeup. Even dampening them before use doesn’t help and when they’ve been washed in luke-warm water, they end up shrinking and the corners seem to disintegrate! As for brushes, I’m in need of a decent set, so again suggestions would be welcomed! My eye makeup brushes are Ruby + Millie and were in a set I got a few years ago (I’ve only just started to properly use them though!). My bronzer brush is FCUK and again was part of a set (along with that illuminator!), but I really need a new one!

I cannot wait for Christmas and spending all my money on new bits and pieces – that is if I can wait that long! I’m already eyeing up the Models Own and Ciaté websites to add to my ‘wish list’ and their Christmas sections are looking very tempting!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Restaurant review: Loch Fyne

Where we dined:
Loch Fyne. Duke Street, Ipswich

Monday 12th November was me and my boyfriend’s anniversary and when deciding where to go for dinner that night, he suggested Loch Fyne. We’d never been before, but heard good things from people – plus he’d been saying for ages he’d take me! What better occasion than four years together.
The restaurant itself is located just before you reach the waterfront and docks, as well as being on the outskirts of the town centre – meaning you miss all that hustle and bustle but still have a really lovely dining experience, despite the traffic outside.
As we went early-ish on the Monday evening, it wasn’t very busy – there were only two other couples sitting in the same area of the restaurant as us – but it made the overall experience more enjoyable, with that intimate touch. The staff themselves were very attentive and didn’t leave us sitting or waiting around. Sometimes you get those waiting staff that are overly keen and end up being an annoyance, but not at Loch Fyne.
The decor inside was relatively simple, but still elegant. Although it was dark by the time we went, I imagine in the height of summer the interior is bright and airy – there are a lot of windows, allowing natural light in – and there is also an alfresco dining section. We were sat by the window, giving us the opportunity to people watch, but were also positioned next to the blackboard which highlighted plans and deals for over the festive period.

What we drank:
Jake – a pint of Peroni (on draft)
Me – a large glass of Pinot Grigio

Loch Fyne have an extensive wine list and being a restaurant specialising in fish and seafood, predominantly have white wines on the menu – although there a number of reds and rosés, as well as sparkling wines and champagnes on offer. Most of the wines are available by the glass (175ml or 250) and all can be ordered by the bottle, with prices ranging from £13.95 (house wine) to £29.95 (Châteauneuf-du-Pape).

What we ate:
Jake – Scottish Aberdeen Angus char-grilled burger followed by luxury strawberry ice cream (other flavours were: vanilla, chocolate and pistachio)
Me – Taglioline Provençale (with king prawns and squid) followed by crème brûlée (served with shortbread)

We both selected from the set menu, which is priced at £9.95 for two courses or £11.95 for three, and is available seven days a week – before 7pm on a Friday and Saturday as you’d expect, with those nights being the busiest. With the main course you are also entitled to a side dish with the options being: chips, French fries, new potatoes, mixed vegetables or seasonal salad. Having ordered a pasta dish, I opted for the salad as I didn’t really know how else to accompany my meal; especially as we previously shared a bread basket and didn’t order starters. The bread was a lovely opener with a mixture of white bloomer and wholemeal – it was definitely freshly baked and soft.
If you’re not into the limited choices within a set menu, there is also the a la carte option and the specials board, which lists a starter and three main course dishes. The starters range from oysters (which can be bought by unit, six, or half a dozen) cooked in a number of ways and accompaniments, hot and cold shellfish platters which can be shared and those who aren’t a fan of fish: a charcuterie plate. As far as main courses there are two options to have fish “your way” – the first being a standard fish and chips supper (served with chips, mushy peas and homemade tartare sauce), with your choice of fish: haddock, cod or fish fingers. The second is more of a conundrum and allows you choose your choice of fish, the way you would like it cooked, the sauce or salsa you wish to be served with it and two side dishes. There are also a couple of vegetarian and meat dishes – of course, the obligatory steak is on the menu!
I thoroughly enjoyed my first Loch Fyne experience and look forward to visiting again, particularly as there is so much of the menu I must sample! I thoroughly recommend going as well. It’s definitely a place that can be suited to couples looking for a cosy spot or somewhere to celebrate an occasion or larger-sized groups looking for somewhere fairly upmarket but quiet enough to enjoy each other’s conversation, a good glass of wine and some fresh fish!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Recently bought: These boots were made for walking

I don’t know about you, but as soon as it gets the tiniest bit chilly, I go down my shoe cupboard and dig out my Ugg boots. During the cold months my Uggs are the equivalent of a baby’s blanket or old person’s walking stick – I just cannot live without them. In fact my suede pair have been worn so much the lining inside is thinning!
I was in town the other day, just browsing, but I ended up buying myself a pair of ankle boots. New Look always have lovely collections – especially for general day-to-day shoes – and I just couldn’t resist. I actually want to go back and buy another pair. They’re just a little bit different, I think. During the day, I’ve always stuck to black shoes: ballet pumps, dolly shoes, others kinds of boot; these are tan leather. They look pretty smart as well – the problem with my Uggs is that everyone has them and they can end up looking really common (although mine are real and not those ‘fake’ equivalents – I can’t stand those, just to add).

Wish List
I’m really after a pair of Aviator boots, but can’t seem to find a pair anywhere. If anyone knows of anywhere selling them, let me know.

What are you favourite winter staples? 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

A taste of the exotic: Thai red beef curry

A lot of people laugh when I tell them I don’t like Indian food because I don’t really like curry – when we go for, or order an Indian, I often just have tandoori chicken with some plain boiled rice and a mountain of salad. But for some reason I really love Thai cuisine and there’s something about their curries I love. I’m not sure if it’s because of their fragrance and sweet coconut, but time after time, I find myself craving a good Thai curry and jasmine rice.
So I’m sharing with you my recipe for Thai red beef curry. For me, I always associate beef with red curry and chicken with green, but of course, that’s just me – you can equally use chicken or king prawns, whatever you like!
The best things about this recipe are that you can also freeze the curry paste, as unless you’re cooking for more than eight, you won’t need the entire packet. I found portioning it into quarters worked well, and keeping it in one of those microwavable trays to use for next time. Also, if you’re not using all of the coconut milk, you can add it to the rice to add a bit of flavour – I always use the half rice to water method, which has never failed on me!

Serves 4
Red curry paste (I’d recommend using 50g – I bought a 200g tub from Waitrose, separated the rest into three 50g portions and froze it for next time)
1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger
350-400g fillet steak (if you’re using chicken, I’d suggest a breast per person)
½ an onion
1 can of coconut milk (usually in 400ml, I used 300ml and put the rest in the rice water, or save it for something else)
1 lime
Dice up the onion, before sautéing in a frying pan, drizzled with oil
Cut the steak into manageable strips before adding to the pan, along with the curry paste
Add the ginger and stir, before adding the coconut milk
Add enough water to cover the meat and bring to the boil
Simmer and leave to cook for 10 minutes – if the sauce hasn’t thickened to your liking, cook for a further 5 minutes
Serve with lime wedges

The first time I cooked this dish, I was dieting, so I served my parents’ portions with boiled rice flavoured with the leftover coconut milk and I chose stir-fried vegetables. Greens worked nicely – pak choi, tenderstem broccoli and sugar snaps or mange tout cooked in ginger. Alternatively, if you wanted to cook the curry in a pot and add vegetables to make a one-dish meal, that would work easily as well.
If you find that 50g of the curry paste isn’t enough – or is too much – you can always adjust it next time, to your own personal taste.

Like I said, chicken works equally as well!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Theatre: The Hound of the Baskervilles

I love going to the theatre, whether it’s up in London, or just locally in and around Essex. On Friday night my parents took me to see The Hound of the Baskervilles at Queen’s Theatre. I had no idea really what to expect, having never read the novel, or seen the film adaptation(s), but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
For those unfamiliar with the plot: Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead on the Dartford moors; there are paw prints next to his body. Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Doctor Watson are left to solve the mystery of the hound before another member of the Baskerville family is targeted.
The production was given a comedy twist which made it really entertaining and the cast got into character superbly. There were only four actors starring in the play – or three if you discount the one on the pianoforte, who also had a minor role (he got roped in by the others to play a Yokel in one scene).
As with most murder-mystery stories, the mise-en-scene played a big part in creating the atmosphere and the production at Queen’s delivered. As you’d expect from a Sherlock Holmes detective case the setting added mystery and eeriness – the moors with manor house in the background was shown on a projector which acted as a back drop; the other black and white period images alongside the lighting created that feel of darkness wonderfully. The music was suitable to each particular scene, with the likes of Puccini and Prokofiev being played. The smoke too, added to the tension, particularly in the moor scenes where, with the added darkness, it was hard to see what was happening – and who or what may materialise next!
The comedy element was apparent from the off, with the play beginning as you would expect, with Baskerville’s dead body lying out in the moor. Before you know it, one of the actors appears on the stage yelling “stop”, causing confusion amidst the audience. It turns out it is all part of the act as they explain they need to make it clear “this will contain gunshots” before requesting “people of a nervous position” may want to leave. From there, it’s straight back into the action – but there are in-jokes throughout. The beginning of the second act also has a similar impact, an initial bewilderment but comic all the same – the cast quickly re-enacted the first half in a couple of minutes, and there was an element of slapstick when Simon Jessop as Watson gets himself in a bit of a pickle. It had the crowd in raucous laughter anyway, and once this recap was complete, there was a rapturous applause.
I thoroughly recommend going to see The Hound of the Baskervilles if you’re in or around the area, and the show is running until Saturday 17th November. Prices range from £10 to £24.50 and although the top-end may seem a little pricy, the show will have you in stitches and never stray from the real plotline.