If you could only keep one cookbook…

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…..what would it be?

Now, asking that question to someone like me, who has almost 500 books in her collection is tiny a bit cruel. I mean, how can I be expected to pick a favourite when there are just SO many good ones in my collection?

There are so many books that I love and many that are well-used (the two aren’t mutually exclusive for me – some I just like to read. Cookbook addicts will know what I’m talking about!) I mean, I pretty much adore anything from Jamie Oliver – his Ministry of Food book is perfect for anyone just starting out in the world of cooking and Gino D’Acampo’s books, well they are my favourite go-to for Italian meals. I’m also a fan of the Hairy Bikers and a spot of Nigella every now and again but when it comes to picking just one book FOREVER? It’s a really tough decision but I’m going to have to go with more of a simple classic – one that covers all bases.

Enter Mary Berry.

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Mary Berry’s Complete Cookbook has everything you need.

This no-nonsense book contains over 1000 recipes for just about every occasion from adventurous dinner party dishes to firm family favourites this book is one for everyone from absolute beginners to competent cooks.  The recipes are easy to follow and include time-saving tips and there’s a whole heap of information on the general basics such as how to freeze, food safety and tips for flavouring and spices.    It is really well laid out and the pictures are great – always my bugbear in cookbooks – I need good clear pictures of recipes!

This is the book I would furnish my children with when they leave home!

Of course there are similar books out there that would also fit the bill – my hefty Good Housekeeping tome would come a close second and is very well thumbed. In fact I have a few versions from different years!

So over to you – if you could only keep one cookbook, which one would you keep and why?

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Gratin of Sprouts!

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This recipe is an oldie, but a goodie. It has become a Christmas tradition since I first introduced it to the table about five years ago now.  I even suggested this year that I might make something different with the sprouts and my daughter was horrified so it looks like it’s here to stay!

The original recipe was one found on the BBC and I think it was by Sophie Grigson. It really is a good one and nearly enough to make even the most ardent of sprout-haters have a try. I say nearly, because even though he gave in and tried them, my husband still won’t eat this dish. I could get a bit self-conscious about the fact he refuses my cooking however my daughter and my in-laws wax lyrical about this dish so I am confident that it’s just him being a big wussy wimp!

I’d eat this little bowl of sprout heaven all year round, apart from the fact that I am only allowed to eat them once a year. Seriously. That’s all my husband can take. The smell of sprouts permeating from the kitchen is just for Christmas.

The recipe here serves eight but I usually halve it as it only needs to feed three adults and one child in my house and as it’s just a side dish, there’s plenty to go around!

Gratin of Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients 
 
900g Brussels sprouts, trimmed
20g butter
4tsp sunflower oil
150g cubed pancetta
20g flaked almonds 
400ml double cream
2.5 tsp lemon juice
5.5 tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper
 
Method
 
Preheat the oven to 200c/gas mark 6.  Place the trimmed sprouts into a saucepan of simmering water and cook for around 4-5minutes until the sprouts are almost cooked. Drain thoroughly and leave to cool slightly before cutting the sprouts in half.
 
Place the butter and oil into a large frying pan. Over a medium heat, saute the pancetta and almonds for around 4 minutes until they are lightly browned.  Add the halved sprouts and saute for a further 3 minutes, stirring all the time,
 
Add the cream and bring to the boil. Keep on the boil for around 3 minutes, until the cream has reduced to a rich sauce. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
 
Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice and transfer to an ovenproof dish.  Mix the breadcrumbs and Parmesan together and sprinkle evenly over the top of the sprout mixture.
 

Place in the oven and bake for around 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown and you can see the cream boiling and bubbling. Remove from the oven and serve from the grain dish – taking care not to burn your fingers, that dish will be hot!

There’s nothing left to do but enjoy, and seriously, you will!

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Review: 31DOVER.com & Willem Barentsz Premium Gin

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Anyone who knows me will probably know that I am quite partial to a gin or three, so when I was asked to review a recent addition to the 31DOVER,com website I was hardly going to say no!

Who are 31DOVER.com? Only the UK’s leading online drinks vendor. They stock the best drinks (and there are some really excellent brands stocked) at the best prices and deliver them right to your doorstep the next day.

The offer of free gin (even the words make me happy…) actually came at exactly the right time as I had run clean out of gin. I know! How does such a thing happen? Clearly a massive oversight on my part but never mind, because 31Dover provided me with a lovely bottle of Willem Barentsz Premium Gin which I have to also add was beautifully presented in an uber stylish matt black gift box.

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Now this isn’t my first experience with Willem Barentsz but lets not let that get in the way of some much needed gin-tasting shall we?  First up, lets hear a bit more about Willem Barentsz gin, which is named after the Dutch Artic explorer of the same name.

Willem Barentsz London Gin apparently boasts an exotic but delicate balance of botanicals sourced from the far ends of the world, enhanced with the signature botanical of jasmine flower and combined with a classic mix of juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, orange peel, almond, liquorice, cassia bark and orris root.

I decided to try this gin with my favourite mixer, Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic (which incidentally is also stocked at 31DOVER.com though I picked it up at my local Co-op). Honestly, I have turned into such a gin and tonic snob, it’s untrue. I used to believe that all gins and all tonics were created equally. Then I discovered craft gin and premium tonic and I have never looked back. This Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic just transforms your G’n’T.

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This gin has a really smooth flavour, that was something Mr M commented on and he’s hardly a gin aficionado, but it really has, and with the elderflower tonic and a garnish of pink grapefruit it is nothing short of divine. I imagine, of course, you could use this in all manner of cocktails but I honestly feel like a good gin is wasted in a cocktail – enjoy it simply over ice or with premium tonic and you’re onto a winner!

We absolutely adored this gin and at £32.95 for a 70cl bottle I’d say it was a mid-range price for a premium gin.  Would I buy it? Yes I would. Would I buy from 31DOVER.com in the future? Again, yes I would – especially for a present as I was totally won over by the presentation of the gift!

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Returning to work – my tips!

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A couple of years ago, I found myself in a most unfortunate position – facing redundancy. It was quite an unpleasant and scary time, having not applied for a job in decades and certainly not since I had become a parent.

I think returning to work after you’ve had a child must be one of the trickiest things to negotiate, unless you have a really helpful employer. Unfortunately many women experience difficulties and it’s especially hard if you are starting out again from scratch. When it comes to putting together your returning to work resume or CV it can be hard to know where to start.

Today I thought I’d share a few of my top tips if you find yourself in the position of having to look for new work:

  • Think about what you need or want from a job i.e. do you want flexible hours, an opportunity to climb the ladder, learn new skills and also think about you have to offer – not all skills need to be professionally gained – you could have had a hobby or volunteer role that has widened your skills.
  • Research prospective employers – talk to friends and acquaintances who may know of companies that are more sympathetic to returners or those looking for more flexibility. Word of mouth is good! Identify companies you’d like to work for and make contact to see whether there are likely to be any vacancies in the near future.
  • If you’ve got gaps in your CV then consider using a functional CV format rather than a chronological one. List your skills and achievement and make sure to mention any other experience or skills you might have gained through volunteer roles.

If you are really struggling with your resume or CV then do consider hiring an expert to look over it and help you rewrite it to maximise your success and getting past the first hurdle – the CV sift. It’s not normally a huge investment but can be well worth spending a few pennies on!

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Review: Treating myself with Dartington Crystal!

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I was contacted recently to ask if I’d like to collaborate with Dartington Crystal. As part of this collaboration I was given the opportunity to select anything I liked (to a certain value!) from their website.

I’m sure a brand like Dartington Crystal needs no introduction but just in case let me tell you a little bit more about them.

Dartington Crystal started out life when in 1967 a group of Swedish glassmakers brought their hand-making skills to rural North Devon and with that, started a very different glass company. Today, they continue to provide elegant, simple designs in crystal and glass and much of their range continues to be handcrafted in Devon. Did you know that Dartington is now the only crystal brand still producing in the UK? I didn’t!

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Now the problem is when you’re given SO much choice it can be really hard to make a decision but I decided rather than choose something I needed why not choose something totally frivolous and beautiful – so that’s what I did! It’s not often we mums get to splash the cash on ourselves so it was a nice treat to be able to select something just for the fun of it!

So once I decided that was the way forward, I decided what I needed was a vase. In my opinion, you can never have too many vases, even if your husband should be the type that absolutely never ever ever (ever) buys you flowers. Actually, scratch that, he did send me flowers on our wedding day but honestly outside of that I am hard-pushed to recall another occasion! Never mind, I don’t hold it against me, he treats me in other ways (thanks for the Apple TV Mr M!) and I just settle on buying my own flowers. At least that way I get what I want and they are colour coordinated.

I opted for one of their flower bottle vases – which are a distinctive Dartington design with a choice of colours and shapes. I plumped for the Daisy Flower Bottle which is made with a gorgeous cool turquoise glass and finished with a beautiful daisy illustration.

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It really is a gorgeous piece and as the Dartington Crystal website states, it is just as eye-catching without flowers (which is lucky really, huh!) and it really brightens up my kitchen. It’s currently residing on my bookshelves in the kitchen just waiting to fulfil it’s flower-filled destiny. I’d normally always choose a clear glass for a vase but I am totally in love with the colour and shape of this vase, which retails at £47. If you’re buying it as a gift you can also have it engraved and it comes neatly boxed.

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I was really impressed with this product, everyone who has come round and seen it in my kitchen has asked me about it – and I think that’s in part down to the gorgeous colour. The only issue I have now is that I want more! There’s a very special purple anemone bottle calling my name…

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