Friday, 27 February 2015

My February Reads


After my mammoth reading session in January, I haven't done so well this month.  I'm blaming half term and now chicken pox for absorbing all my time!

I did manage to complete my B for A-Z authors but should really be much further along than this by now...I need to choose shorter books I think.

Here's what I've read this month:-

A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell - I do love a good Jill Mansell book.  She is one of my 'go to' authors when I want a romantic story to curl up on the sofa with and lose myself for a day or two.  This didn't disappoint.  Lara Carson vanished from Bath 18 years ago, leaving her family and her boyfriend, Flynn without a word.  Now she's back in town.  There's no-one more delighted to see here than her childhood best friend, Evie, who is just about to get married.  Or so she thinks.  This is a lovely story of how life might not always turn out the way you think, but that sometimes, these hiccups can be the best thing to ever happen to us.
Star rating: ***

The Skeleton Cupboard: Stories from a clinical psychologist by Tanya Byron - This is Tanya Byron's account of her years in training as a clinical psychologist.  She shares incredible stories of some of the patients she met during her placements and how they inspired and taught her so much.  Although all the case studies aren't actually real (rather based on some of the people she worked with) I thought it was an incredibly moving book.  It reminded me how people are unique and amazing individuals.  Well worth a read although you may find yourself shedding a tear or two.  It is also my 'B' for A-Z of authors.  Now for the C!
Star rating: ****

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan - After suffering an unfortunate freak accident in the chocolate factory she works in, Anna Trent finds herself stuck and unmotivated.  A chance meeting with her old French teacher, Claire sees Anna make the decision to move Paris to work with a master chocolatier, Thierry.  Thierry is the former sweetheart of Claire and this book follows Anna and Claire in the present as well as Claire and Thierry when they were courting.  It's a lovely, heart-warming story about healing old wounds, finding love and, of course, it is filled with delicious recipes as usual in Jenny Colgan's books.
Star rating: ****

Have you read any good books this month?  Let me know if you've got any recommendations.

Linking up with A-Z Authors and Read with Me.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

My Top 5 Kitchen Life Hacks

I am a huge fan of taking shortcuts where possible in the kitchen.  Having two young children, there isn't always time to do everything 'properly' and if you've ever seen me make a cake then you'll know exactly what I'm talking about (I go for the 'dump it all in together and hope for the best' method of baking)

So if, like me, you are looking for ways you can cut down on the amount of time you spend cooking the evening meal with a child hanging off each leg, then here are my top 5 life hacks for the kitchen:-

1. Cook your bacon in the oven
This is one I only discovered recently after many years of dodging spitting fat as I tried to fry my bacon.  If you have never cooked bacon in the oven then you are missing out.  Not only does it come out deliciously crunchy but it also means you can pop it in the oven and walk away until it is ready, without having to stand around by the hob.  Trust me, your weekend bacon sarnies will never be the same again.

2. Use your microwave
Pre-children, I would only ever use the microwave for heating microwave meals and not much else.  In fact, most of the time it just sat on the kitchen worktop, taking up space and gaining dust.  Now I use the microwave for everything: I steam vegetables, roast garlic, soften sugar, poach eggs, proof dough and so on.

My favourite use is part-cooking vegetables and potatoes if I'm making a stew or a casserole and I need to do it quicker than normal.  This ensures that the contents are soft (James and the kids don't like their veggies to be crunchy!)  If you don't have a microwave then you should definitely invest in one.  You can get many great deals, such as these Panasonic microwave ovens.  
3. Use tongs for fruit squeezing
Once upon a time I owned one of those cheap white plastic fruit squeezer things which is supposed to be the best way to get lemon/lime/orange juice and so on.  Either I just didn't get the knack of doing it correctly or they really are as useless as I think.  I have found a much easier way is to cut my fruit in half and use a pair of tongs to squeeze each half, successfully de-juicing them.

4. Refrigerate onions
If you don't want to be weeping buckets every time you try and chop an onion then store them in your refrigerator.  I've been doing this for a number of years and it works a treat.  No more stopping every few seconds to dab at stinging, running eyes.  I have also heard that putting a slice of bread in your mouth (with some partially sticking out) can also work as the bread absorbs the fumes before they reach your eyes.  Can't say I've tried this out though personally.

5. Soften butter
We've all been there when using real butter; holey, decimated bread because the butter is just too hard.  Not ideal.  A great and easy way to soften butter is to use a cheese grater.  The smaller curls of butter will soften much faster than waiting for the whole block to soften.  A pretty neat trick if you've got guests coming over too and the curls of butter can look quite artistic too!

Have you got any kitchen life hacks?

Disclosure: This post has been written in collaboration with Panasonic.  However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.