Monday, 27 October 2014

Best-ever Brownie Recipe - from BBC Good Food website

As you may have seen from my Twitter/Instagram yesterday, I treated myself to a little bit of Sunday afternoon baking. It's rare that I have time to bake but I find it so relaxing and rewarding when I do. I decided to make some brownies using the following recipe:-
 

Best Ever Brownies

by Orlando Murrin
Ingredients

  • 185g unsalted butter
  • 185g best dark chocolate
  • 85g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 50g white chocolate
  • 50g milk chocolate
  • 3 large eggs
  • 275g golden caster sugar

  • Method
     
     
    1.  Melt the butter and dark chocolate in a medium sized bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Stir occasionally until melted and then take off the heat and leave to cool to room temperature.
     
    2.  Heat the oven to fan 160C/conventional 180C/gas 4 (most ovens take 10-15 minutes to heat up. Using a shallow 20cm square tin, cut out a square of non-stick baking parchment to line the base.
     
    3.  Sieve the flour and cocoa powder together into a bowl.
     
    4.  Cut up the white and milk chocolate into small chunks.
     
    5.  Break the eggs into a bowl and tip in the caster sugar. With an electric mixer on maximum speed, whisk the eggs and sugar until they look thick and creamy, like a milk shake. This can take 3-8 minutes, depending on how powerful your mixer is. You’ll know it’s ready when the mixture becomes really pale and about double its original volume. Another check is to turn off the mixer, lift out the beaters and wiggle them from side to side. If the mixture that runs off the beaters leaves a trail on the surface of the mixture in the bowl for a second or two, you’re there.
     
    6.  Pour the cooled chocolate mixture over the egg/sugar mixture, then gently fold together with a rubber spatula. Continue until the two mixtures are one and the colour is a mottled dark brown. Be as gentle and slow as you like and be careful not to knock the air out of the whisked egg mixture.
     
    7.  Sieve the flour/cocoa mixture over the egg/chocolate mixture and gently fold together. The mixture will look dry and dusty at first, but will mix together. Stop mixing just before you feel you should, as you don’t want to overdo this mixing.
     
    8.  Stir in the white and milk chocolate chunks until they’re evenly mixed throughout.
     
    9.  Pour the mixture into the tin. Gently ease the mixture into the corners of the tin and paddle the spatula from side to side across the top to level it. P
     
    10. Cook for 25 minutes. When the timer goes, open the oven and gently shake the tin. If the brownie wobbles in the middle, it’s not quite done, so slide it back in and bake for another 5 minutes until the top has a shiny, papery crust and the sides are just beginning to come away from the tin.
     
    11.  Leave to cool in the tin until completely cold. 
      
    Apparently the brownies will keep in an airtight container for a good two weeks and in the freezer for up to a month, which is always good to know as the recipe makes a lot of brownies!

    The recipe was taken from the BBC Good Food website.

    I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of brownies, they are usually a bit too dense chocolate-y for me (**gasp, shock horror!**). This means that I have not had much practice making them and my track record is not great. However, I this recipe was so easy to follow and, whilst I'm not being very modest here, the end result was AMAZING!
     
    I also used my special brownie tin from a US company called Baker's Edge. They used to sell them at Firebox and Amazon, however I'm not sure of current UK stockists. The tin is fantastic! The idea is to circulate heat evenly which helps to ensure that the brownies are moist in the middle and avoids the problem of uncooked centres and dry edges. 
     
     
    These really were the perfect brownies!

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    Thursday, 16 October 2014

    Hair & Beauty Review: Supergoop CC Cream



    For the past 2 weeks I have been using Supergoop's CC Cream on a daily basis, thanks to a couple of 3ml samples from Birchbox. I LOVE this stuff!

    The Supergoop website provides the following description:

    A silky, all-in-one sun defense formula covers imperfections and corrects uneven skin while targeting the signs of aging. Potent antioxidants and triple protection from UVA, UVB and IRA rays minimize the signs of photoaging and inflammation. This velvety CC cream comes in three self-adjusting shades to suit a variety of skin tones.

    What Makes This Goop Super
    • 100% mineral UV protection is ideal for sensitive skin types
    • Infused with essential fatty acids Omega -3 & Omega-6 to neutralize discolorations and blotchiness, and minimize inflammation
    • Brightening apple extract and light-reflecting mica minerals deliver instant luminosity and skin clarity.


    Who This is Ideal For
    This is ideal for women on the go. It is a simple easy way to combine your skincare and foundation in one!


    The samples I received were in shade 'light to medium'. Being a redhead, I am quite pale and covered in darker freckles. As such, I find that a lot of foundations/tinted moisturisers are either too dark or too pale, however this CC cream blends in perfectly and gives me a fantastically healthy glow. I am slightly concerned that as winter sets in and my (slight) summer tan fades, the colour may become too dark, however that's a great excuse to also by the lighter shade and experiment with a bit of blending.

    The formula feels light and non-greasy. My fine lines appear well-hidden and I like the SPF protection it provides to my skin. The cream gives my skin a natural look whilst giving great coverage and evening out my skin tone. In addition, a small amount goes a long way. One of the 3ml tubes has lasted me for 2 weeks already. It's a perfect product for me.

    The only real downside to this product is the price. Highstreet CC creams will set you back around £10, whereas Supergoop CC cream seems to retail at between £25-£30 in general. The best deal I have found so far is from StrawberryNET where a 47ml tube is priced at £21.50, although they don't currently stock the light to medium shade.

    I will be squeezing every last drop out of my sample tubes and I will definitely be re-stocking this. I can honestly say this is my favourite beauty product at the moment and it will almost certainly remain a regular addition to my make up bag.

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    The Chocolate Book Tag

    I saw this tag on a twitter post by Amanda at Chocolate Pages (also found on Twitter at @Chocolate_Pages) and thought it sounded fun. I love hearing about peoples' book choices and I'm always looking for recommendations for future reads. I also like the fact that this tag does not necessarily ask for my favourite books, but rather books I have read which may fit into the given categories. I hope you find my choices interesting.

    If anyone would like to join in, feel free to do so. Don't forget to send me your links after you have written it so that I can read your choices.

    So, here goes.... 

    DARK CHOCOLATE: a book with dark content or theme.



    My choice for this category is Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. Set in 18th century France, it tells a terrifying tale of a young man with a remarkable nose who becomes obsessed with the possibility of capturing the scent of young womanhood. This is a vile, disturbing yet gripping read, a real modern classic. 

    WHITE CHOCOLATE : a light hearted read.



    I read pretty much anything and I like to vary my book choices, however for a light hearted read there is nothing I like more than a good chick-lit/romcom. I have a number of favourites including Jill Mansell, Freya North, Janet Evanovich, Jana DeLeon etc... 

    It is very difficult to decide on this category, however I'm going to choose Hot Six by Janet Evanovich. For those unfamiliar with Evanovich's work, this is the sixth book in the Stephanie Plum series and the first of the series that I read. I remember feeling particularly low when I started reading this book and it cheered me up so much. It's a real laugh-out-loud story about a bounty hunter who gets into scrapes, blows up cars and generally survives through sheer luck rather than skill. In my opinion this is one of the better books in the series and however many times I read it, it still makes me laugh. 

    MILK CHOCOLATE a hyped popular book that you really want to read.



    I really want to read A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, book 1) by George R R Martin. I love the tv show and I've had this book on my Kindle for about a year waiting to be read. I know it's long and there are a lot of characters, as such I'm waiting until I have some uninterrupted time to sit down and wade through this one. I think this may be my Christmas book. 

    CHOCOLATE WITH A CARAMEL CENTRE: a book that makes you feel goey inside.



    My choice for this category has to be Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding. This is the ultimate in comforting romances - an awkward girl who finds her Prince Charming. I love this book and feel totally goey after reading it. 

    A WAFER FREE KITKAT: a book that surprised you.



    I had a lot of difficulty in choosing a book for this category as I honestly cannot the of a book that surprised me. I'm sure there are a few that did which have now slipped from my memory. So, my choice for this category is Skin Tight by Carl Hiaasen. My reason for this choice is not so much that the story surprised me but rather that it is the only one of Hiaasen's books that I have read and his writing style came as a bit of a surprise. The story is about a retired state policeman who's lazy days are disturbed when a hit man is sent after him. The humour is dark, dry  sarcastic and witty. It's unusual, dark, violent and, in places, very funny. 

    A SNICKERS BAR: a book you’re going nuts about.



    My choice for this category has to be The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. This was my husband's holiday book and I read it after running out of my own books. It is such an interesting book that both myself and my husband have recommended it to numerous people. Ronson is a journalist and you can guess this by his style of writing. He uses great observational humour whilst also dealing with the subject matter in a compassionate manner. The book did leave me slightly worried as to whether any of my colleagues are 'psychopaths'  but left me reassured that I was not. I would definitely put this book on my 'must read' list. 

    HOT CHOCOLATE WITH WHIPPED CREAM AND MARSHMALLOWS: a comfort read that you turn to again and again.



    For this category, I'm going to refer back to my childhood and to a series of books that I've not read for years - The Famous Five by Enid Blyton. One of my favourite childhood memories is of early evenings with my mother sat on a recliner chair, my baby sister on her lap and myself and my twin sister each sitting on an arm of the chair. My mum owned a full hardcover set of The Famous Five books and would read us a couple of chapters most days whilst waiting for my dad to arrive home from work. We must have read those same books over and over again, yet we never asked her to read anything else to us. A truly perfect childhood memory. If my husband and I have children, there is no doubt that we would repeat this experience for them. 

    A BOX OF CHOCOLATES: a series that has lots of things that many readers will like



    This may be a bit controversial, but I'm going to say the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I know that ultimately they're kids books but the have a fantastic mix of humour, friendship, romance, suspense, intrigue, drama, death, fantasy, magic and much more. 

    I would love to hear what you thought about my choices and about your own choices, so please carry on the Chocolate Book Tag and share your answers.


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    Monday, 13 October 2014

    Book Review: The One You Really Want by Jill Mansell



    Title: The One You Really Want 
    Published: 10 February 2008
    Publisher:  Headline 
    Author: Jill Mansell
    Twitter: @JillMansell
    Blog/website: http://www.jillmansell.co.uk/

    Synopsis 


    It all starts with a shiny, red, sit-on lawnmower. When Nancy spies her Christmas present from her husband sitting on the lawn, she realises the jewellery she thought was for her must be sitting on someone else. Her best friend Carmen isn't surprised (she never liked Jonathan) and persuades Nancy to leave Edinburgh and come and stay in her luxury London flat - far too vast for Carmen since her husband, millionaire rock star Spike Todd, died. Soon Nancy's met gorgeous Connor O'Shea, who lives next door, and his daughter Mia is matchmaking - not least because she'd like to see the back of Connor's current pushy girlfriend. Meanwhile Carmen, who's always been certain she doesn't want another man in her life, feels a spark when a handsome charity worker called Joe calls round. But Joe's not quite all he seems...

    Review

    Yet another great book from Jill Mansell and a perfect holiday read. I couldn't put this book down and ended up reading it over the space of one day whilst lounging around the pool. 

    I have been a reader of Ms Mansell's books for a number of years, finding them on the whole to be easy reading whilst not coming across as too flimsy (which I come across only too often in the 'chick-lit' genre). 

    The main characters are charming and loveable, despite their many flaws, and I was able to escape into their world. 

    The book was, for the most part, fairly light-hearted and certainly gave me a few chuckles and the few deeper emotional moments were dealt with sympathetically. 

    This may not be a hugely intellectual piece of literature, however with several storylines running concurrently, this book is a great example of what I think 'chick-lit' should be - a light, girly, romantic and humorous read. Fans of Jill Mansell will not be disappointed and for anyone unfamiliar with her work, this book would be a great place to start. 

    The book is released in electronic format and is currently available for free from Amazon UK. At that price, I'd definitely recommend you give it a try! 

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    Friday, 10 October 2014

    Book Review: Death at the Manor (The Asharton Manor Mysteries Book 1) by Celina Grace

    (Apologies for the poor quality picture!!)


    Title: Death at the Manor (The Asharton Manor Mysteries Book 1)
    Published: Published May 29th 2014 (first published May 1st 2014)
    Publisher:  unknown
    Author: Celina Grace
    Twitter: @Celina_Grace
    Blog/website: http://celinagrace.com/

    Synopsis (taken from Good Reads website)
    This is a novella-length piece of fiction (about 20 thousand words)

    It is 1929. Asharton Manor stands alone in the middle of a pine forest, once the place where ancient pagan ceremonies were undertaken in honour of the goddess Astarte. The Manor is one of the most beautiful stately homes in the West Country and seems like a palace to Joan Hart, newly arrived from London to take up a servant’s position as the head kitchen maid. Getting to grips with her new role and with her fellow workers, Joan is kept busy, but not too busy to notice that the glittering surface of life at the Manor might be hiding some dark secrets. The beautiful and wealthy mistress of the house, Delphine Denford, keeps falling ill but why? Confiding her thoughts to her friend and fellow housemaid, feisty Verity Hunter, Joan is unsure of what exactly is making her uneasy, but then Delphine Denford dies…

    Armed only with their own good sense and quick thinking, Joan and Verity must pit their wits against a cunning murderer in order to bring them to justice.

    Death at the Manor is the first in the Asharton Manor Mysteries series: a four part series of novellas spanning the twentieth century. Each standalone story uses Asharton Manor as the backdrop to a devious and twisting crime mystery, from bestselling crime writer Celina Grace, author of The Kate Redman Mysteries


    Review

    Despite this being a very short book, I found it to be an enjoyable period mystery. There was a lot of promise to the story which, unfortunately, was too short to really take root.

    It is told from the view point of a kitchen maid, Joan Hart, and due to the length of the story there is little opportunity for development of the supporting characters. This leaves them slightly one-dimensional and difficult to relate to or care about. This is one of my main problems with the book, I could not bring myself to care about the character who was murdered or the potential murderers. As such, it did not ultimately matter to me who the villain proved to be. This slightly ruined my enjoyment of an otherwise reasonable murder mystery.

    I understand that there are to be more mysteries involving Joan Hart and her oldest friend, Verity. If these are developed into a full length novel, I would be very interested to read the same. As an advertising gimmick for a full series, this novella is great, however I do not consider that 'whodunit's' really lend themselves to short stories due to the lack of opportunity for character or plot development.
    The book is released in electronic format and is currently free via Amazon UK.  

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    Book Review: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith



    Title: The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike Book 2)
    Published: 19 June 2014
    Publisher: Sphere
    Author: Robert Galbraith
    Twitter: @RGalbraith
    Blog/website: http://robert-galbraith.com/

    Synopsis (taken from the website)

    A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, The Silkworm is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant Robin Ellacott.

    When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days – as he has done before – and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

    But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realises. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were published it would ruin lives – so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him.

    And when Quine is found brutally murdered in bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any he has encountered before…
    Review

    This is the second book written by JK Rowling under the pen name of Robert Galbraith.  Whilst many may disagree with me, I believe that, as with the first book in the series, I like the development  of the main characters, namely the hero Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin. Despite still having a lot to learn about the characters, I find that I am drawn to them and want to learn more.  

    The plot feels slightly more complex than in The Cuckoo's Calling, but in some ways still rather weak. This story appears to be written as a typical detective novel and yet very few clues are given to help the reader determine who carried out the crime. For me this is a shame as, when reading a 'whodunit', I like the challenge of working out who the villain is. It allows me to fully immerse myself in the story and join in the hunt for the villain! In this story, so little is given away about any of the suspects that there is little chance to drawn your own conclusions as to the perpetrator of the crime. In hindsight, there are some clues provided, however they are so subtle that they are really only apparent once you know the ending to the story. Interestingly, there is a moment within the book in which the reader is advised of the difference between plot and narrative. "Plot is what happens" and "Narrative is how much you show your readers and how you show it to them." This may be something that Galbraith should bear in mind when considering how to allow readers to fully immerse with the story. 

    Without giving any spoilers, I can say that it was interesting to note some contemporaneous issues referred to such as phone hacking and self-publishing. By setting the tale in the world of publishing, Galbraith is using their own personal knowledge of that world in order to create a believable basis for the story.  

    When reaching the last few pages, the final unravelling of the mystery seemed very sudden and abrupt, particularly as very few clues are given throughout the book as to the identity of the villain. I felt slightly 'blindsided' as to the motive and the identity of the villain.
    Overall, despite any perceived shortcomings with this book, I would say that this is a genuinely enjoyable crime thriller with interesting characters and a tale that kept me involved. It was a good choice for a holiday read.
    The book is released in electronic format and, whilst I was fortunate enough to grab it whilst on special offer at £1.99, it is currently priced at £6.99 on Amazon UK.

    Let me know what you think of it! What do you think JK Rowling's attempts at adult fiction?

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